Together, You Can Redeem The Soul Of Our Nation

from NYTs

While my time here has now come to an end, I want you to know that in the last days and hours of my life you inspired me. You filled me with hope about the next chapter of the great American story when you used your power to make a difference in our society. Millions of people motivated simply by human compassion laid down the burdens of division. Around the country and the world you set aside race, class, age, language and nationality to demand respect for human dignity.

That is why I had to visit Black Lives Matter Plaza in Washington, though I was admitted to the hospital the following day. I just had to see and feel it for myself that, after many years of silent witness, the truth is still marching on.

More here.

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13 Comments

  1. While there have been instances in my life that were trying and required resilience, I am the first to admit that I have lived a safe and sheltered existence. I have never received sexist remarks or was discriminated against based upon the color of my skin, but that is no big surprise. The news today is filled with one thing only – hate. It is no small thing that John Lewis, a nationally known civil rights leader, wanted the last words that he ever produced to advocate for peace and nonviolence. I grew up hearing the tragic histories of the Holocaust and September 11, 2001, but it was not until my first year in high school that I ever heard the story of Emmett Till. Seeing the pictures of a boy whose life had been so brutally and hatefully taken away was hard to stomach, especially as he was the same age as I at the time. I sometimes imagine how terrifying it must have been to live through the times like those, never realizing that people today are. It is almost understandable as to how someone could be so angry at the violence shown towards them because of their race that they would want to inflict the same violence on others. This could have been someone like John Lewis, who was only a year older than Emmett at the time of his death. Lewis lived his life advocating for civil rights movements and equality, living through what could be considered the worst parts of it. But still, just before laying on the bed that he would die in, he did not advocate for violent responses. He did not wish for those who had suffered to make others suffer the same. Instead, he wished for peace, and he urged the current generation to bring about love and nonviolence.

    It is a powerful image to see someone with his experiences to not be angry. Despite decades of his life dedicated to making change and some of the same issues still prevalent, he does not tell this generation to forcibly make a change through violence. He urges us to do something like voting or getting into necessary trouble. He wants us to rid ourselves of the hate that has consumed our society. Instead of being the harbingers of hate, we should become the forerunners of love.

  2. I am not going to lie. Before the death of John Lewis, I did not know of John Lewis. I was not taught about him in middle school or high school – the only civil rights leaders we really discussed were Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Karl Marx. With the racial injustice that has been so prevalent this year, looking back now it infuriates me that my school district purposefully excluded important events and shared incorrect information about the history of people of color in the U.S. For example, the first time I learned about “redlining” was in my freshman year of college when I took a social work course. When I look at my community and those around me, it makes sense why certain areas have certain populations – because the government enforced it. I was taught that slavery ended with the Emancipation Proclamation. Why was Juneteenth excluded? I had to learn about the holiday itself and the cultural significance through social media posts because I was never taught about it. I did not learn about how racial injustices continued to prevail after the Civil Rights Movement – I had to watch the horror on the news. In elementary school, I was taught something so simple as “police are the people who save the day.” If we were to look at this from a different perspective, everything would be different.
    When George Floyd was murdered, I took it upon myself to have the hard conversations with family members. I felt it was extremely necessary to protest and donate and sign petitions and listen to people of color (further referenced as POC) and read books about the actual history for POC in America. I asked my parents about their beliefs on the matter. We did not agree in the slightest (it’s not their fault – they were never taught our nation’s actual history in school growing up) but I asked them the question, “Do you believe we would still have the need to protest if your generation rejected racism like my generation seems to be doing now (for the most part)?” They did not have an answer. If we were taught the correct history of America would we be in such a racist state right now?
    Lewis highlights in this article that “Democracy is not a state…it is an act…” This is a powerful quote that is extremely vital today with the upcoming election. It goes to show that we all need to do a little research to see who we are really electing – the days of just checking off a box on a random local candidate because we do not know any of them is over. All of those people who marched back in June are now eligible to vote. We know our rights under the Constitution. We know that we are legally allowed to protest under the first amendment. We know that it is a violation of this right to arrest peaceful protestors. I do not believe that things will ever go back to the way they were – not after this. There is too much racial injustice for people to turn a blind eye. The Black Lives Matter movement is not just in the U.S. anymore, we saw marches in England, France, Belgium, Korea, Brazil, and Syria even. The only thing the president has said that I agree with is that “the whole world is watching.” Of course, we mean it in different contexts, but it is a fact. Will Breonna Taylor’s murderers be convicted and sent to prison? What is taking so long? If something so clear cut as that case not making it to a courtroom that tells the people that you can get away with murder. Derek Chauvin has a $1 million bail with the orders to “never work in law enforcement again.” That astonishes me. There are people so racist in this country that they would rather give a murderer bail than give justice. It is time for systemic change.
    There is so much systemic racism in America whether it be in the police force, the judicial system, and even the real estate agencies (redlining), for example, that it is difficult to make this significant change. Lewis highlights Dr. King’s philosophy of peaceful protesting and how important it is in today’s society. I believe there is going to come a time, and that time is going to be soon, where the people in power can no longer ignore the issue.

  3. The end of John Lewis’s life came in the middle of America’s most progressive movement in the nation’s history. Black Lives Matter has attracted millions around the world to take stand on inequality, and an interesting aspect about all of this is the many different people that have participated. We saw the protests on news everyday – different people with different come ups, with unique sexualities, all shades of color come together for one cause.
    The contrast between each other can also be seen on a much smaller scale such as a comment on a blog. John Lewis and I could not be any more different, yet I agree and believe in his message. I have not known of him before his death, but now he has my respect and sympathy as well as anyone else who read this essay. Lewis was born in the deep south 61 years before I was, in a time and a place where racism was even more prevalent and accepted. He tells us that he has witnessed hate and racism firsthand because of the color of his skin. I grew up in a wealthy, suburban neighborhood in New Jersey in the 21st century. The two backgrounds are not even comparable and still, his message is directed to me. Despite our differences, Lewis knows that he needs me in order to fulfill his dying wish, which is to bring peace to our people. Without my help, or the help anybody who continues to stand aside, hate will continue to live in our hearts.
    Lewis’s essay is a personalized one for each and everyone us. People around my age – the future of the nation – have a luxury that we cannot waste, which is our education. We are very fortunate to have the ability to learn about our past mistakes and prevent them from happening again. We are smart enough to see something and know it is wrong and we are strong enough to fix it. The question is do we have the motivation and determination to do so. This essay was not simply a dying wish, but a plan. Lewis gave us a goal – peace in our nation. He gave us the how by saying we must do so without violence and together as a species. And he gave us the motivation. Lewis gave us all of this because he knows that we have the power to make a change. His entire life has been dedicated to making the world a better place, and he has a lifetime of experiences that has shaped his idea of good. He shared his wisdom, we only have to listen.

  4. Growing up as a white-presenting person has come with an extreme amount of privilege and insight. I have never been victim of a hate crime or discriminated against, but I have first-hand experienced both things happen repeatedly to my mother. Though I inherited my Irish father’s last name and light skin I also adopted my mother’s Dominican culture as my own. My racial identity felt like a secret, as if I am the one person who experiences both sides of racial injustices. The education system creates a facade that racism was abolished with slavery. After being taught this for years I assumed the treatment of my mother was the result of a few bad apples. White-washed history has stunted the country’s growth towards equality. However, civil rights leaders like John Lewis have proven that very little has changed in the nation. Innocent lives were taken because of their skin color during his upbringing just as they are today. George Floyd was murdered sixty-five years after Emmett Till for the exact same reason.

    It is inspirational to see John Lewis’ passion for change, to the extent that this essay was written on his death bed. He expresses that a necessary step towards change is “good trouble”. Without voting or speaking out against racial injustices, generations to come will still be afraid to go to the store to buy Skittles. The world is filled with hatred and it is up to society to break that mold. It is comfortable to live with hatred and discrimination when you are not directly affected by it. However, it is vital to stand up for what is right in order to acquire the equality the country desperately needs. Lewis concludes the essay by setting a scenario of future historians writing about this time. This generation has the opportunity to be the one to truly abolish racism instead of pretending it never existed in the first place. Every single person, especially those who are not people of color, have the choice of what side of history to be on. Action must be taken on a large scale to heal the nation. While activists like John Lewis are inspirational, the burden of fixing racial injustices are not on him alone. Any action that disrupts the comfort of racism in the country is a step in the right direction.

  5. When I was an elementary school student, I would try to “get ahead” of future assignments by over preparing for work that my sister, who was a middle school student, would receive. This would be in the form of reading the textbook she was assigned in her American History class. I remember this vividly, probably because the thing was bigger than my head at the time, and because of the fact my parents would then go on to brag about this to their friends that I was so “far ahead” of my . I remember reading from the conquistadors to the Nixon era, but one section of the book did not make much sense to me. Throughout the book, I was accustomed to reading about good and bad people. For example, the British wrongly levying taxes against the colonists, the Union fighting the Confederates, the Nazis getting trounced by D-Day, and the United States beating the Soviet Union to the moon. Everywhere I say stories of American excellence. But the one period that the book delved into that I could not properly sort was the Civil Rights section. This may seem like a bit of a tangent in responding to such a moving piece by John Lewis, but I wanted to honor the man by expressing how I first understood the magnitude of his accomplishments. Before this reading, I had only the vaguest knowledge of the Civil Rights movement, and various differences in terms of how African-Americans are treated. But after viewing pictures of protesters being sprayed with fire hoses, reading about the Little Rock Nine and what they experienced, and seeing the open casket of Emmett Till, I have never forgot. Where the dearly departed Mr. Lewis fits into this is his name came up when I was reading about the Freedom Rides of the sixties. His life seemed bigger than just a name on a page, which is why I consider him to be one of my personal inspirations, joining names I hold in high regard such as Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln, Superman and Winston Churchill. So reading his parting words in the Times felt quite literally like I was hearing about his death all over again. I have followed his life and his actions even up to the present day, from his support for the modern day movements like Black Lives Matter and standing up to Trump to the quieter moments he brought, like his other opinion pieces he wrote crusading against the ills ever present in America. So regardless of his passing, I can still live out my life enacting his wishes for a generation free from hate, and hopefully replace it with something better. I owe this man that, at the very least, for being one of my heroes. I only wished he could have lived long enough to see me enact these words into reality.

  6. I am not lying when I say that I have never heard of John Lewis before I read this piece. After I would say that if he wrote a book, I would read it. The challenges brought up about black people getting killed was said in a way that makes you think about society. Elijah McCain was not just a black man, but he was violinist that played beautify music. The color of skin should not have dictated his death. John Lewis said his thoughts on how when historians talk about the 21st century and how peace can be made over the burdens of violence and death. This sentence struck a chord with me because the 21st century was said in the past to be “one that would be remembered for years to come” but at the moment the only thing that is going to get highlighted on top of Apple phones is the killing of minorities and black people. In a world so cut and dry you would think that the color of someone’s skin did not matter but the sad truth is right now it does. What was not said enough in Lewis’s piece which should have been highlighted is that excuses are being made for others in society when there should be equal justice for all people. Equal is a word that is thrown around in many writings such as the United States Constitution of Independence. It states that there is equality for all people when this is not true. The harshness of what is happening in the 21st century is nothing to what John Lewis wanted. He thinks that our generation could change the violence, but I believe it could only be changed if the people act for it.
    Actions lead to not only a movement but a realization that what has been done to others is not okay in any way. Great leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr. marched for there freedom and the way I see it is we are staying behind technology to get our freedom to sort out by itself. This is not the solution.
    The solution is for everyone to look at their point of view and change it to the other side. If you can genuinely say that you think nothing is wrong than you are not looking hard enough. I believe change is going to come with time. As much as I want it to come quicker, I do not think it is going to come over night. There are way too many people stuck in there worlds and are going to need society to bring them back to Earth.

  7. This was a powerful letter for me. Personally, the riots that have plagued America following the death of George Floyd have kept me up at night. They terrify me to my core, and they remind me more of the chaotic French revolution than the stoic American revolution. The rioting problem is not a new issue; Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton debated in George Washington’s office when the French revolution started. Martin Luther King would debate his contemporaries on the use of violence in protests. Today everyone seems to have an opinion on the riots. Hearing John Lewis’s final words advocate for peace was uplifting. Sadly, he is gone now, but I am sure more people stand against violence and have a voice in the BLM community. I see a lot of hate in our generation, I see many immature fits of rage, and I see a lack of disciplined minds throwing temper tantrums and joining cult-like mindsets instead of standing for real reform. I hope John Lewis can become a symbol for peace over violence and order amongst the chaos 2020 has been. John Lewis paraphrased Martin Luther King and said, “Democracy is not a state. It is an act, and each generation must do its part to help build what we called the Beloved Community, a nation and world society at peace with itself.” The community in that sentence strikes me. Today’s communities are being destroyed, buildings burnt down, businesses closed for COVID, political polarization dividing family and friends. However, this nation’s Democracy does not work when the government is the only source of power. We need a string of interconnected and interdependent communities to form our social fabric. While people are too busy tearing each other down, they forget to build one another up. “humanity has been involved in this soul-wrenching, existential struggle for a very long time.” I think that recent events have amplified our existential struggle, and a lot of the recent problems in society have arrived from society struggling to deal with existential dread. A decaying civil society, skeptical politicians, and social media, along with other factors, exponentially increase the burden of finding meaning in life. I only hope that the nonviolent way out of this mess that John Lewis highlighted can be the path we choose.

  8. When I try to think of words that summarize this article, the only word that I can conjure up is “powerful!” The fact that John Lewis knew he was leaving this earth shortly after, but still decided to write this letter and take a trip to visit the Black Lives Matter Plaza in Washington, shows how selfless of a man John Lewis actually was. His selflessness offered me a change of perspective. As an African American female, I have heard numerous brutal experiences about the black men in my family alone, and their tragic encounters with racism and discrimination in America. So much so, the death of George Floyd not only devastated me, along with countless others in the world, but I also lost hope for America’s future when I heard about the uptaking of Floyd’s devastating death. I lost hope in the fact that the narrative that I grew up hearing about as it pertains to governmental oppression towards African Americans, will ever come to an end.

    However, in the last days of John Lewis’s life, he was able to become inspired. He even stated, “You filled me with hope about the next chapter of the great American story.” He goes on to explain how the tragic death of George Floyd was his Emmett Till. This letter made me realize that if an eighty year old African American man could find inspiration and hope as it relates to the progression of race relations in this country, I can too. The letter encourages America as a whole to pursue the good fight by first pursuing peace. America is currently in a frenzy in that there are so many emotions overtaking us right now, one of those emotions being anger. Out of all the experiences Mr. Lewis has seen throughout his long life, he did not once insinuate strife. John Lewis teaches us to assess the root of our hearts, take action by speaking up against violence, use our voices and vote, and learn our history. That is how change is manifested.

    After reading my peers various comments and responses to John Lewis’s last words, I find that almost all of us feel either ignited, inspired, educated, or empowered. Those emotions are what provokes change. I am thankful that John Lewis was able to leave us with some guidance and direction during such travailing and unpredictable times. In addition to his words, I find that what brings and restores hope back into the black community and America as a whole is when the world acknowledges the Black Lives Matter Movement for more than just an organization that is specifically for people of color. Instead, America must look at the Black Lives Matter Movement as an organization that reunites blacks with whites, that America has ever so divided with various systems and acts of oppression. To move towards a progressive society, America can not just say ‘we don’t see race,’ because when we do “we’re ignoring racism, not helping to solve it” (Stafford). We must be able to call out injustices when we see it by pursuing “good trouble” (John Lewis).

    Works Cited:
    Stafford, Zach. “When You Say You ‘Don’t See Race’, You’re Ignoring Racism, Not Helping to Solve It | Zach Stafford.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 26 Jan. 2015, http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/jan/26/do-not-see-race-ignoring-racism-not-helping.

  9. To be frank, before reading this article I had known very little of who John Lewis was. I had heard briefly about him in classes throughout high school, but very little. In school my history classes focused mostly on Martin Luther King Jr., learning little to nothing about other civil rights leaders. After reading Mr.Lewis’ essay I was intrigued and wanted to learn more about him. I read up more about who he was and what he did. I can honestly say I regret not knowing more about him earlier. His essay was so personal that I felt some type of connection towards him. Reading this essay ignited so much inspiration in me, as it appears it did with my other classmates’ comments as well. With recent events I have realized that I have lived a blessed, but sheltered life. I understand the privilege I have more than ever after reading this. In the recent months, my eyes have been opened to events I was blind to for my whole life. I cannot and will not ever understand what it is like to be a person of color in this country. That being said, just because I may not face the same struggles does not mean I will not fight for a change. This essay made me realize the many privileges and blessings I have that I do not appreciate enough. I could not agree more with Mr.Lewis that as a citizen of this country and ethical being we must all stand up and speak out against the injustices taking place. I do think Mr.Lewis is right, there is a lot of change that could come from our generation. While we still have a long road ahead, we must make a change. This change starts with us and it starts now. In order to come together as a country and be at peace, we must all make a change and unite as one. This unity cannot exist until there is equality for all.

  10. When I was in the third grade, I was sitting on the bus when a girl from my class tapped me on the shoulder. I turned around and I was looking back at her and her friends uncomfortably when one of them blurted out, “Do you eat dog?” and began to laugh uncontrollably with his friends, looking back at me like they were not the ones that started the conversation. I did not quite understand what he was talking about until years later when I discovered that these random, confusing questions and odd stares with fingers pulling eye-lids back with a snarky grin meant something more than a few kids teasing me in the hallways. I grew up in a tiny, suburban town where there were a handful of people that looked like me and even less that looked like John Lewis. In a neighboring town, I had the privilege of attending a Black Lives Matter protest. Me and twenty other people stood outside for three hours doing our part to make some noise and make our voices known. It took maybe twenty minutes before people began making mean comments and gestures our way, but still we persisted and stood tall in the face of hatred. John Lewis was one of the leading Civil Rights activists of our country, leading by example as a non-violent protester himself. He stood strong and let his voice be heard, with a passion surpassing even his own death. John Lewis helped pave the way for this generation to be brave enough to stand up for what is right, learning from our past and push forward toward an equal, loving future for all people to walk free at night and not fear for our lives.

  11. Prior to the article I had slight knowledge of John Lewis but was aware of who he was because of past history classes. Growing up in a era as I would describe as worse as the current John Lewis had to see oppression in what was nearly it’s peak of modern America. Being along side Dr. King he was fighting for equality from nearly the age of 15 on. Still seeing issues in today’s society John never will get to see the final product of an oppression free America and won’t experience what he fought for his whole life. Although times may have gotten better than the 1950’s we still find ourselves with problems that we shouldn’t have. The younger generation from millennial’s down is were the biggest change will be made as people from the older generations are stuck in their own ways. We need to make the change and all come together to show these issues are unnecessary and can be fixed. The message needs to be passed down from generations on rather the message of hate that some people would spread to their children during the past generations. Everybody needs to unite with similar views on human treatment rather than politics. Politics have 0 correlation to human rights and that can be a key issue for why some people argue over nothing. Once politics are disconnected from the equation of bettering ourselves I believe there will be a wider grasp across older generations included for a need to change. John Lewis ends his goodbye letter as I would call it with a powerful message that we need to take into our brains and act upon it. He says “When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war.”. I find this direct message as extremely powerful because he has seen large movements such as the woman’s rights movement and the civil rights movement but realizes that they didn’t fully accomplish the goal. Encouraging the new generations that they can make a change that nobody else has been able to up to this point. I agree that together we can change this nation for the better.

  12. John Lewis was a remarkable and iconic figure who represented true freedom and equality for those who have been oppressed. The end of Lewis’s life came at a very trying time in our history, as the hearts of many were already aching from the innumerable instances of police brutality that disproportionately target the Black community. Throughout the article, it is also stressed that these events are not meant to be violent, but to call attention to the issues at hand. Additionally, he expresses, what I consider to be, the fear of being Black in America, which means having that striking moment in life where you realize that these incidents can easily happen to anyone including you. Lewis discussed the moments in history where people, essentially, began to “wake up” and realize that these events are not acceptable and that the people should stand up for what they believe in. Furthermore, he is truly attempting to express that the youth is the future of the country and will be essential in truly reforming the sociopolitical climate, as it is most important that each person is treated fairly, as a human, and not for the things that make us physically different.

    Simply, it is astonishing that John Lewis is still speaking out in support of solving the same issues that were prevalent in his youth. America is still facing the same issues after 65 years. I find that John Lewis had a very important and powerful message for the public before his death, which was: union, peace, and love.

  13. This article written by Rep. John Lewis is one of the many examples of how inspiring and selfless Lewis was. His story, being a Civil Rights leader and speaker at the March on Washington, is inspirational in itself, but Lewis has a unique way of motivating people to pursue justice, equality, peace, and unity. His rhetoric and view of the world is one that still gives me goosebumps every time I read his words or hear his speeches.

    In the article, Lewis mentions this idea of a “Beloved Community, [which is] a nation and world society at peace with itself.” This is Lewis’s vision of the ideal society, a utopia of sorts, in which hatred and violence have no place. His words ring especially true since he not only experienced the turmoil of the Civil Rights Movement but also was involved in the recent movement against police brutality in the United States. Lewis tries to inspire the readers of this article to reach this ‘Beloved Community’ by voting, engaging in nonviolent protest, and of course causing ‘good trouble.’ He makes it clear that voting and participating in the democratic process is key to “redeem[ing] the soul of America.” I think coming from Lewis this message seems to have a magnified significance, as Lewis protested against Jim Crow laws and voter suppression, which is a shining example of how effective nonviolence can be in achieving justice. It is clear that Lewis believes Americans can achieve the same kind of racial justice and equality that he fought for in the ‘60s, but we must employ the proper means of doing so. He stresses the importance of each generation to “say something” when we see something isn’t right, a message seen directly in our society through movements such as Black Lives Matter and pro-LGBTQ+ movements. These are clear examples of people resisting the oppression of a select group of Americans and making their “moral obligation” heard, fighting against intolerance and ignorance. Rep. Lewis expresses his awe over the magnitude of the Black Lives Matter movement and its strong defense of human dignity, proving that this idea of a “Beloved Community” can only be successfully reached if people peacefully stand up for justice and don’t stop until their voices are recognized.

    Another interesting point mentioned by Lewis is the need to “study and learn the lessons of history because humanity has been involved in this soul-wrenching, existential struggle for a very long time.” Again, he indirectly refers to his experiences in the Civil Rights movement as proof that injustice can be overcome. This “soul-wrenching” struggle for equality has been built on the attempts of many to counteract the “exploitation of others.” However, if we are to see any change it is so critical for people to understand what has caused people to protest and how history has played a role in our modern society. I think Lewis would agree that the moment we begin to take sides on issues due to political affiliation or a lack of understanding that is the moment we fail to recognize the importance of empathy and understanding. It makes it that much more difficult to “survive as a unified nation” without empathy and understanding of our fellow citizens.

    In my opinion, the words of John Lewis will continue to inspire people for a long time to come, especially in an age of increased political division. This idea of standing up for what you believe is just, and creating a society built upon peace and justice is one that will never dissipate from the hearts of Americans. We pride ourselves in the freedoms of our Constitution, yet we sometimes fail to realize that these freedoms aren’t absolute and that these freedoms sometimes fail to protect historically marginalized groups in our society. I strongly believe that constitutional rights, and their interpretations by the Court, have led to a more equitable and free society, however, unjust practices are harder to remedy. The law can only control the behavior of unlawful citizens and practices after they occur, which highlights the importance of Lewis’s vision of getting in ‘good trouble.’ The only real way to stand up against de facto injustice is to participate in the democratic process and to stand up when we see something that is not right, as Lewis says.

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