Downtown D.C. was packed Friday evening with high energy and iconic civil rights figures for the Greater Washington Urban League’s 46th annual Whitney M. Young Jr. Memorial Gala, which celebrated the historic organization’s 80 years of service.
The event at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Northwest also paid homage to legendary Congressman John Lewis for his continuing work in civil rights.
“I have been so inspired by the children, the young people, by the women and also by the football players,” Lewis said during a question-and-answer session. “Before we marched across that bridge from Selma to Montgomery on March 7, 1965, we kneeled, we prayed, and then we got over. Tear gas, dogs and police, but we didn’t stop and it gave us the Voting Rights Act of 1964.
“The young people, the students, the children — they are so smart and gifted in leading the way,” he said. “They will help us get there and make our country and the world a better place. And to the young activists, I say, read the literature, watch the videos and whatever you do, do it in an orderly, peaceful, nonviolent fashion. And never become bitter, as Dr. King and others once said, ‘never hate, for hate is too heavy a burden to bear.’”
Closing out his his heartfelt message, Lewis implored youths to remain courageous as they face the future, the White House and its current leadership.
“Trouble don’t last always, we will get through this,” Lewis said. “I believe that we will make it over and these women and the youth are going to see to it and lead the way. During the height of the civil rights movement, when I was growing up as a little boy, we didn’t have things like cellphones or social media, which could have possibly really helped advance our movement, but today’s generation does, and I believe that they will take full advantage and for the better.”
Founded in 1938, GWUL has guided individuals, families and regional policymakers through systemic challenges. The oldest civil rights organization in the region, GWUL has served residents in D.C. and Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.