Congressman John Lewis: A Lasting Relevant Life


By Wilfredo “Wil” Rojas | Guest Blogger AC JosepH Media

There are news headlines that spark emotions that get people to strongly react. Friday’s news of the passing of civil rights icon Congressman John Lewis is one of those headlines, which provoked an avalanche of thoughts, prayers, and other expressions of sympathy for the Congressman’s family and solidarity with human and civil rights crusaders all over the globe.

A leading figure in the struggles for civil rights in the United States, John Lewis inspires us to continue the struggle for full equality for the exercise of our human and civil rights. He fought against segregation, genocide, and discriminatory immigration laws. He fought until the end, for the voting rights of all people and was one of the strongest voices in favor of social justice and equality of our times.

As Loretta Winters, president of the Gloucester County NAACP eloquently described him: “If relevancy is measured by what we build and what we teach and by what we share, Congressman John Lewis led a life of lasting relevancy.

READ: South Jersey Speaks Out on Late Civil Rights Icon Rep. John Lewis

“He was instrumental in building a modern-day civil rights movement, he taught us how to use the power of our vote, he sacrificed much in sharing his activist life with us and for us,” a teary-eyed Winters said. She marched with the Congressman in crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge on the 50th Anniversary of Bloody Sunday.

Early in his life, Lewis made it very clear that he was going to fight inequalities and injustices. At just 21 years old, he became one of the founders of the Freedom Riders. His first struggles were against segregation on public transport, in the early 1960s. He was also the youngest leader in the massive 1963 demonstration in Washington in which we recall the famous Martin Luther King speech “I Have a Dream.”

His conviction for the fight for equality gave him no respite. The history books remind us of his participation in the famous peaceful anti-racist protest in Selma, Alabama, in which he was brutally beaten by the police. His scars on his skull reminded him every day that the fight for the full exercise of rights was still necessary.

Elected to the Congress of the United States in 1986, he tirelessly led the fight for a more inclusive and just United States of America. While in the United States House of Representatives, he continued his fight against racism, promoting equal rights and holding his colleagues accountable to uphold the principals that inspired the founding of our democracy-based society, where all people — regardless of race, religion, or gender — can exercise the full exercise of rights for all people. 

“The wind is blowing, the great change is coming.” Those were some of Lewis’s expressions in a debate on racism in Congress within days of George Floyd’s death. His voice and participation were one of the flames that fueled the protests and with them, the Black Lives Matter movement against racism and police brutality took so much flight that it boomed throughout the world. 

“John Lewis was an unconditional advocate in the fight to demand respect for the dignity and worth of every human being. We will remember him for his legacy of nonviolent activism as an exemplary advocate in the fight for equal justice in the United States. Today, Gloucester County NAACP regrets his departure. 

We hope that John Lewis’ legacy will reverberate in the consciences of those same who have in their hands the power of voting to build a just, plural and democratic society in which respect for the dignity of all people is the agenda that guides us. 

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is one of the oldest and most influential civil rights organizations in the United States. Its mission is “to ensure the political, educational, social, and economic equality of rights of all persons and to eliminate racial hatred and racial discrimination.”

Bio: Wilfredo “Wil” Rojas is an award-winning columnist, veteran civil rights activist and former officer with the Gloucester County NAACP. He is the cofounder and retired director of Philadelphia Prison System’s Office of Community Justice and Outreach.

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