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5 activists on how they’re carrying Rep. John Lewis’s legacy forward

By July 19, 2020February 16th, 2021News


John Lewis, a Georgia Congress member and icon of the civil rights movement, died Friday at the age of 80.

Throughout his decades-long career, Lewis was known for his activism — from his roots as a Freedom Rider and firebrand organizer of the March on Washington, to the many times he was arrested, some as a member of the US House of Representatives. In his time as a lawmaker, he became an advocate for LGBTQ rights, expanded freedoms for immigrants and refugees, and supported gun reform measures. He continued this work in his final weeks — just a month before he died of pancreatic cancer, he visited Washington, DC’s Black Lives Matter Plaza, one of many places reflecting the current wave of anti-racism protests sweeping the world.

He was known for encouraging people to become activists themselves, saying they should not hesitate to get in “good trouble.” And he inspired many to do just that.

Here, five activists reflect on what Lewis’s legacy meant to them, and how it may be carried forward. Their responses, edited for clarity and length, are below.

Kamau Chege, manager of the Washington Census Alliance:

In 2013, I graduated high school and shortly afterward [worked as] an affiliate leader [with] United We Dream. That summer was the big summer for pushing the comprehensive immigration reform bill. We did a whole bunch of actions, but near the fall, as we’re wanting to escalate, members of Congress were demonstrating outside the Capitol, and Rep. John Lewis was arrested.

A couple weeks before that, I had gone down to DC, and we were strategizing how people were going to push [for the bill]. I went to talk to the Congressional Black Caucus and was able to catch Rep. Lewis as he was walking. He was a fast walker! He was running late to a vote. I was explaining the bill, and asked, “Can we count on you?” He said, “You can count on me,” and gave the thumbs-up.

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