In 1965 John Lewis was spat upon for his and others’ attempt to walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge to fight for voting rights for African Americans. At the bridge, he was kicked by those wearing heavy work boots, screaming the Rebel Yell as they attacked him. State Troopers, wielding truncheons to attack and not protect, fractured his skull, nearly killing him. The beating and pain were because of you, America. So, you could see and understand. So, you could begin living up to your promise of liberty and justice for all.
In 1987, when John Lewis won Georgia’s Fifth Congressional District, he did it because of you, America, to help you become more aware of the flaws that blind your justice. The flaws that thwart the education of Black and Brown children. The flaw that loudly proclaims we are not yet accepted. And so, Lewis fought to build the country he was promised, though not given. He pushed the country to become more than it was, because it hadn’t yet reached all that it could be.
And because of his work in public and private sectors, along with his words and conscience that continuously urged the country to find its better self, John Lewis, along with millions of others, elected Barack Obama, a Black president. On the day of his inauguration, President Obama handed John Lewis a note saying, “Because of You.”
Years later, as Black, White, Brown, and Native protesters filled the nation’s streets, and as people of many differences march for the idea that “Black Lives Matter,” that equality is a right, not a privilege, it is, John Lewis, “Because of you.”
And though, the country will miss your thoughtful guidance and wisdom, it will remember the final lesson you taught…. Freedom and equality cannot rest on the shoulders of one person or one movement. It must spread among others, so that when we reach our goal, we can truthfully say, “Because of Us.”