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John Lewis: A life dedicated to the tenets of nonviolence

Says the scars of racism are still deeply imbedded in U.S.

D. Kevin McNeir | 11/28/2013, 9 a.m.
John Lewis

Congressman John Lewis, 73, was recently in Miami, speaking to students at Booker T. Washington Senior High School who were joined by young men from the 5,000 Role Models of Excellence. His remarks centered on his recently-

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Congressman Lewis talks to Role Models

published graphic novel trilogy, specifically Book One entitled “March.” The novel is a first-hand account of Lewis’ lifelong struggle for civil and human rights and describes his youthful quest for knowledge and his life-changing meeting with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in those pivotal years in which the civil rights movement was just being formed. The book was written in collaboration with Andrew Aydin and New York Times best-selling artist Nate Powell.

Lewis was born to a family of sharecroppers just outside Troy, Alabama in Feb. 1940 at a time when Blacks in the South were routinely subjected to humiliating segregation in education and public facilities and were prevented from voting by discrimination and intimidation. But Lewis persevered. In his comic series, he says he hopes to bring to life

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Congressman John Lewis sworn in as an honorary Role Model with Judge William Thomas and Congresswoman Wilson.

those days from the past for a new audience of youth.

“After my successful 2008 re-election campaign for Congress [Georgia, District 5], my staff and I were taking some time away for rest and recuperation,” he said. “Andrew [Aydin, campaign manager] was going to a comic book convention. But it didn’t sound silly to me. I remembered reading a 1958 comic book, “Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story,” that really inspired me. It led me to have the courage to participate in sit-ins, in marches and to even take part in the freedom rides. And we did it all following the rubrics of non-violence. I think that’s what our youth need today — another way to express themselves that is grounded in an action campaign of peace.”

Lewis says that just as he was indoctrinated into a different way of thinking and living — one which he continues to follow today — young adults can be trained in the methods of Gandhi, King and others who believed that the only way to make positive change in society was through non-violent means.

“If it had not been for that comic book, listening to King’s inspiring sermons on the radio from my home in Alabama and then eventually meeting and being mentored by him, I know I would have been a very different person. I don’t know what would have happened to me — or to the United States. Maybe my book will plant seeds of peace for today’s youth. I hope they will see it as a guide — as a way out and as a way in. I want young people to say, ‘If Dr. King and Congressman Lewis could do it, so can I.’ Let’s be clear — the battle is not won and we are not living in a post-racial society — not even with a Black president. We still need reconciliation between the races and healing for all. The scars of racism are imbedded deeply in this country and in our souls. That’s why I’m on this amazing pilgrimage and taking to young people across the country. I may be 73 but I feel like I’m 33 again!”