I was in college when I first learned about John Lewis. I was doing some research regarding Georgia history and the civil rights movement (specifically some cases which started in Georgia). My professor made a comment about “Representative Lewis” and I blinked.
It rocked me mentally to realize that someone still alive (and honestly not that old in 2005) had marched with Martin Luther King Jr. Marched as an adult. Not a child holding a parent’s hand. A man grown and finished with his education. Mathematically I knew this was possible. But this was the first time I felt it to my shoes.
I didn’t know anything about John Lewis at the time. I didn’t grow up with him as my representative (honestly, I didn’t know who my rep WAS growing up so…. this wasn’t surprising). He was one of the people who inspired me to begin paying more attention to my local politics instead of just presidential. This meant looking at my representatives in Congress, my representatives to the Georgia congressional bodies, and my local leaders (council or whatever).
As part of paying attention, I saw John Lewis regularly. He has never been afraid of making a statement and even when I didn’t entirely agree with him, I could respect the statements he made. More than once, his statements made me sit up and ask, “wait. what?” His memory of events in the twentieth century (which I will admit was NOT my area of study in history for the most part) brought to light issues of race, social equality, and representation which have helped me form opinions. Sometimes it wasn’t even the statement itself, but the reading I went and did because he said something.
I can only hope that his successor will be able to represent his district with the same class, grace, and fervor which John Lewis brought to Capital Hill. I also hope that my son will get to see someone equally intelligent and influential someday who represents my state of Georgia so well (God knows we need as many positive examples as we can get!).