Our Quote of the Week pays tribute to Congressman John Lewis (February 14, 1940-July 17, 2020). Although we lost Rep. Lewis to pancreatic cancer in July, his example of leadership and service will continue to guide and inspire us for generations to come.
On April 27, 2001, the Shriver Center on Poverty Law conferred the Robert Sargent Shriver Jr. Award for Equal Justice to John Lewis. Sargent Shriver presented the award to Lewis personally; our Quote of the Week is taken from his remarks at the ceremony. Among other things, Shriver tells Lewis:
"I believe you are one of the most farsighted human beings who can rouse our country so that we can successfully overcome new enemies who attack us without any accurate understanding of our principles, our achievements, or hopes for the future happiness, prosperity and equality among all people for which our country stands."
Although Sargent Shriver spoke these words nearly 20 years ago, they were true of Lewis when he was protesting with Dr. King in Selma and organizing SNCC in the 1950s and '60s; they were true when he forged a career in electoral politics on the Atlanta City Council and then in the US Congress, and they continued to be true up until the time of his death, as this New York Times op-ed, which was published on the day of his funeral last Thursday, reveals. An eternal optimist who dared to confront some of the darkest elements of our society, he was a staunch defender of civil rights and human rights for his entire life.
If you were a witness to Rep. Lewis' funeral service last week, you are aware of Reverend James Lawson's remarks during the service. Lawson, one of Lewis' mentors and his teacher in the practice of non-violence, stressed that through his actions as a young man, Lewis made possible President Johnson's Great Society programs, including Head Start and the other War on Poverty programs. To put it another way: Sargent Shriver's work on poverty would not have been possible without Lewis, who literally put his life on the line in order to ensure a more just and prosperous future for all of us.
We are grateful to Rep. Lewis, and we commit to following his advice:
"Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Be hopeful, be optimistic. Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble."