I join the people of Georgia’s 5th Congressional District, the United States of America, and the world in mourning the death of Civil Rights icon and 17-times-elected U.S. Congressman John Lewis. Here is street photography I took of his district leading the historic Women’s March in Downtown Atlanta in January 2017, right after he had spoken to the crowd.
That summer, my younger daughter had the opportunity to meet him when she and a group of fellow young artists were selected for the Alliance Theatre’s Palefsky Collision Project, where they created and performed an original production (including the title song of one of her albums, Better) with famous playwright Pearl Cleage, based on the truly stunning, groundbreaking March graphic novel series (by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell)*.
Congressman Lewis met with the teens personally and was in the audience when they performed their culminating production at the Center for Civil and Human Rights. My daughter’s encounter with Congressman Lewis was transformative to her — as were encounters many people have had with him over the years, especially here in Atlanta where he continually, tirelessly showed up.
There is an absolutely gripping homage to his life at the Atlanta Airport, if you ever get a chance to pass through there again and can take a few moments to view it. The last time I saw it was when my younger daughter came home for spring break this year (and has yet to return due to COVID-19) from the university where Martin Luther King, Jr. earned his PhD and where the Atlanta exhibit shows Congressman Lewis delivering a commencement address. The exhibit, once again, reignited my commitment to what Congressman Lewis called “good trouble.”
May we all answer the call when good trouble is needed, and may we all change the world for the better, tirelessly, all the days of our lives, as John Lewis so clearly did.
And, now, may John Lewis (February 20, 1940-July 17, 2020) finally rest.
* If interested, you can view the show here. Here is an additional private viewing for John Lewis (shown with Pearl Cleage) of a selection from the show just prior to the public performance (which he also attended). The young man featured in that clip is Roman Banks, who went on to become the first black understudy (for Evan, Connor, and Jared) in Dear Evan Hansen on Broadway and is now a cast member in Disney’s High School Musical series.
Note: The “Freedom Parkway” to which I refer in my book, where I first found freedom on the bike I took down from my attic after 20 years, has been since renamed The John Lewis Freedom Parkway. You can hear that story, if interested:
I’d also like to give a special shout-out to Danny Lyon, the first Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) photographer (with whom I have shared emails and who has helped me step more confidently into my role as a storyteller during these renewed Civil Rights times). He has continued his friendship and photography with Congressman Lewis throughout the years (including some astounding work recently) and has been working on a documentary about him. Here is one of his most famous photos, from 1962. John Lewis is the man kneeling on the left. This photo was displayed in the office of Congressman Lewis the rest of his life.