Thursday, July 30, 2020

Troubling the Waters: Remembering a Monumental Man

When the news of the passing of the honorable Congressman John Robert Lewis began to trend and was subsequently officially announced on the evening of July 17th--ironically, mere hours after famed civil rights activist and friend Rev. C.T. Vivian would leave this earth as well--I was filled with an enormous amount of sorrow that was surprising even to me. After watching CNN's late night broadcast that evening, which would offer the first major media coverage of the loss of the great icon, the tears began to flow. And they would continue as I reached out to family to make sure they heard the news. And as I drifted off to sleep and awoke the next morning. They continued when scrolling pass quotes, memorials, and the now viral "Happy" dance video of him that was posted across social media platforms. They certainly continued when a horse-drawn carriage carried him one final time across the infamous Edmund Pettus bridge--both the backdrop of Selma's 1955 Bloody Sunday and concomitantly the footstool on which Congressman Lewis would cement his legacy. And the tears would undoubtedly continue as he would lie in repose and in state at the Georgia State Capitol and the U.S. Capitol, respectively, before fittingly and finally being eulogized in his representative state of Georgia at Ebenezer Baptist Church--the church of his own hero and mentor, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. 

As the tears remained unceasing throughout the week, I texted a friend that I had grown sick of my own self at that point--an attempt to inject humor in a somber moment but also to try to reconcile why the loss of Congressman Lewis aside from its humanistic implications was hitting me so hard. I'd never met him personally like some friends were blessed to do; I missed witnessing him speak about the "good trouble" we all needed to get into although I was in attendance at the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington; and I never marched beside him although I prayed my footsteps at least traced his at some point during the times I did take to the streets of Washington in protest for the very ideals he'd fought for his entire life. But the sorrow remained palpable.

In examining my feelings, I was forced to recall that the last time an icon's passing had impacted me so deeply was that of D.C.'s Godfather of Go-Go, Chuck Brown, which I blogged about as well in 2012. At that time I was able to instantly and undeniably pinpoint the source of my sorrow: the tears for Chuck were equally being shed for a city us D.C. natives were no longer recognizing greatly due in part to gentrification. Losing Chuck was losing a giant, living, breathing symbol of the heartbeat of our youth that would forever tie us to our native city even when many of us had long moved away. And in losing Chuck and thus that connection, it gave us trepidation about a new D.C. that was emerging where we weren't certain we would be embraced let alone included. And that's when I was more clearly able to understand the relative pain in losing the great Congressman: because his passing, too, symbolizes a country were we aren't certain we'll ever be embraced and were we are continuously fighting to be included. In losing Lewis, there was fear draped in sadness that we were not only losing a great man, but were also losing our compass, our consciousness, and our last living "civil rights caretaker."

On the night of his passing, I recall struggling to convey to my sister that I was so pained at the thought that after 65 years of literal blood, sweat, and tears that would start as a dream in the heart of a 15-year-old boy from Troy, Alabama and ultimately lead him to a 34-year tenure in Congress, that Lewis may have left this world brokenhearted at the state where it currently finds itself; where the renewing of the Voting Rights Act hangs in the balance; where black and brown bodies continue to be destroyed and discarded before our eyes at the hands of law enforcement; and where social determinants put minority groups at greater risk of contracting and dying from COVID-19 than any other group.

To have lived the ultimate purpose-driven life that Congressman Lewis did, yet to leave this world behind with resolutions to so many of our social ills continuing to be at stake, was too much for my soul to bear. Gratefully, I would be comforted in the coming days hearing from those that knew Congressman Lewis best that he was not only pleased with the work of the Black Lives Matter movement and the social activism that continues to grow from it but had taken comfort in believing the torch had been successfully passed. And I also found relief in hearing that Congressman Lewis never expected to solve or see a resolution to all of the "trouble" he dedicated his life to eradicating, but that instead he was wise and hopeful enough to know that as long as we're on this earth, there would be wrongs to right; that the fight for freedom is both continuous and renewed with each generation; and that--as former President Barack Obama reminded everyone during  Congressman Lewis' homegoing service--we don't have to do everything he did; just do something!

That first something for me is to finally dry my tears and turn the sadness to gratefulness to live in a time where I was able to witness principled men like Lewis and Vivian and Lowery, and women like Waters and Jackson-Lee and Bottoms, and so many countless others past and present, who led and continue to light that path toward liberty and justice for all. The second something is to remain hopeful and continue to find that "good trouble" John Lewis beckoned us all to get into by working toward change at every level whether its voting, marching in protest, or holding our elected officials accountable to make good on the promises on which this country was built. And the third something is, as Lewis himself would personally write in his farewell words to us all, "to let the spirit of peace and the power of everlasting love be your guide." Message received, dear John. Rest well, and may your good and faithful service be rewarded on high and forever held in sweet remembrance.

Photo and Video Credits N/A