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SOTW John Lewis

January 19, 2017 by Speakers' Spotlight

Speak Of The Week: Representative John Lewis

On Monday, civil rights leader Representative John Lewis put down his notes and opted to speak candidly to an audience of young people gathered before him at a Martin Luther King Jr. Day memorial breakfast.

Just a few days prior, President-Elect Donald Trump had used Twitter to criticize the well-known congressman for having raised concerns about the election results — results Lewis had argued were not the outcome of the popular vote, and that were allegedly influenced by Russian hackers and the FBI:

“John Lewis should spend more time on fixing and helping his district, which is in horrible shape and falling apart (not to mention crime infested) rather than falsely complaining about the election results. All talk, talk, talk – no action or results. Sad!” tweeted Trump.

While Lewis didn’t directly address the social media attack, the stories he told about his life stood in opposition to the divisive nature that Trump’s leadership engenders.

At the podium, Lewis reflected his life-long history of activism, which included marching in Selma, Alabama, being beaten by the Ku Klux Klan, and being arrested 44 times for his participation in non-violent protests , noting that even today, despite the progress America has made in race relations, the scars of bigotry in America are still “deeply embedded in society”.

Drawing on Dr. King’s words, Lewis reminded the young people in the audience that “hate is too heavy a burden to bear”. “You must never, ever hate,” he told them. “The way of love is a better way. The way of peace is a better way”, and he urged the young people gathered in the room to use their voices and education to make a difference:

“So I say to you as role models, never give up, never give in. Stand up, speak out. When you see something that’s not right, not fair, you have a moral obligation to say something.”

As he closed off, Lewis explained how hard he and his fellow activists had fought, and how much the right to vote is intrinsic to human rights.

“When you become old enough to vote, go register and vote,” he told the children. “The vote is precious. It is almost sacred. It is the most powerful non-violent tool we have in a democratic society and we must use it.”

For sharing his stories of over-coming hatred and believing in a fair vote to reflect the interests of the people stand as his response to Trump, we choose Rep. John Lewis as our Speak of the Week.