U.S. Rep. John Lewis Speaks on Politics and Civil Rights | The American Word

American Word Logo
An American University student-run magazine since 1999


U.S. Rep. John Lewis Speaks on Politics and Civil Rights

Lewis told students to be active citizens


By
Riddhi Sarkar | 11/19/17 11:05pm
| Updated 11/29/17 11:25pm


Elise Moore /
American Word Magazine

U.S.
Representative John Lewis of Georgia’s fifth congressional district spoke to
American University students about his journey of growing up in segregated
rural Alabama to becoming a civil rights leader and politician in a speech last
night.

96

Normal
0

false
false
false

EN-US
X-NONE
X-NONE

/* Style Definitions */
table.MsoNormalTable
{mso-style-name:”Table Normal”;
mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0;
mso-tstyle-colband-size:0;
mso-style-noshow:yes;
mso-style-priority:99;
mso-style-parent:””;
mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt;
mso-para-margin:0in;
mso-para-margin-bottom:.0001pt;
mso-pagination:widow-orphan;
font-size:12.0pt;
font-family:Calibri;
mso-ascii-font-family:Calibri;
mso-ascii-theme-font:minor-latin;
mso-hansi-font-family:Calibri;
mso-hansi-theme-font:minor-latin;}

The
event was hosted by AU’s Intercultural Greek
Collective (IGC) and Kennedy Political Union. In his speech, Lewis
stressed the need for students to always be optimistic, politically engaged and
do their part in making the world a better place.

Lewis
said when he decided to run for office, he was told by many that he would not
win. He did not let that stop him and encouraged students to enter politics
despite what others may think about their decision.

“Get
involved in a political campaign, run for office,” Lewis said. “You can do it,
be brave — if anyone else can do it, you
can do it.”

Lewis
spoke to the audience about using voting as a nonviolent tool to make change in
their communities.

“The
ballot is the the most powerful instrument that we have, and we should use it,”
Lewis said. “People died for it.”

In
an interview prior to the event, Lewis spoke to American Word about how the
sacrifices made during the civil rights movement must continue to be
recognized.

“I
think it’s important for young people
especially for students, who are so smart, becoming well-educated — to know about the history of the struggle
for justice, for freedom, for what is right and fair,” Lewis said.

He
also said that meeting and working with civil rights figures like Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. had a
huge influence on him. Lewis was chairman of the Student
Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) at the time of the 1963 March on
Washington. At the age of 23, he was the youngest speaker at the event.

“Working
with Rosa Parks and Dr. King made me the person that I am today,” Lewis said.
“If it hadn’t been for them, I don’t know what would have happened to me or
happened to America.”

In
his speech, Lewis talked about an incident in 1961 when he was arrested, jailed
and beaten by members of the Klu Klux Klan in South Carolina. One of the
members who had beaten him came to Lewis’ office on Capitol Hill with his son
to apologize a few years back. Lewis forgave him and said they hugged each
other with tears in their eyes.

“Hate
is too heavy a burden to bear,” Lewis said. “We have to respect the dignity and
the worth of every human being — that’s what the philosophy and discipline of
nonviolence is all about.”

Alia
Carlton, a first year student in the School of Public Affairs and one of the
attendees at the event, is from Lewis’ constituency and had heard him speak at
the Women’s March in Atlanta that he led back in January. She enjoyed hearing
him speak again and said that Lewis’ message of hope is a powerful one that she
will carry with her.

“He
is the most inspirational speaker I have ever heard,” Carlton said. “Based on
our current political climate, I think it’s easy to be discouraged, but seeing
someone who’s been physically beaten and arrested so many times in his life be
that resilient is very inspiring.”

Another
first year SPA student, Bilal Aksoy, who wants to pursue a career in politics,
said he was left speechless after listening to Lewis talk about his experiences
from the 1960’s, especially the pain and torture he had endured. He said Lewis’
words reminded him of racial tension he has witnessed on AU’s campus but is
hopeful about the University continuing its journey to a more inclusive future.

“We
have racist events on campus, and that shouldn’t happen,” Aksoy said. “We’re
fighting towards a better world and a better America.”