The late Rep. John Lewis (left) chats with Del. Gabriel Acevero at a Starbucks down the street from Capitol Hill in 2017. (Courtesy/Del. Gabriel Acevero)

The death of Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) has evoked a flurry of emotions among Black people of various ages and professional backgrounds, but perhaps none more so than millennial organizers and politicos who saw the late congressman’s trajectory as the promise of their potential.
Charis Goff, an Urban League member for the last 10 years, reiterated this point as she recalled a conversation with the civil rights legend during a conference several years ago. She said Lewis encouraged her and her colleagues to continue their work in political advocacy while remaining close to the masses.
“John Lewis didn’t ascend to elected office because he was looking for celebrity status. It was the next step in his process,” said Goff, a board chair for Black Millennials for Flint, MI.
“With him being [so] young, he was able to develop that consciousness that led to his work and made him available to folks. He started off at a young age the same way those of us did. Having direct confirmation that we were doing the same work was so meaningful,” she said.
Lewis, who died July 17 at the age of 80 leaves behind a legacy focused on justice and equality that continues to inspire legions of youth. In the early 1960s, he served as one of the 13 original Freedom Riders, taking an integrated bus from New Orleans to the District, arrested and assaulted by mobs of white people along the way.
Because of his rapport as a proponent of nonviolent resistance, Lewis later became chairperson of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. This opportunity allowed him to participate in the planning of the 1963 March on Washington and, at the age of 23, serve as its youngest speaker.
Two years later, Lewis led more than 600 marchers across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama for an event that would later become known as “Bloody Sunday.” During that fateful day, he suffered injuries to his head that would remain apparent for the rest of his life.
Lewis’ youthful activism not only opened doors for him during the presidency of his fellow Georgian, Jimmy Carter, but eventually led him to pursue a career in Congress.
In the more than 30 years he represented the Atlanta metropolitan area, he not only spoke against the U.S. invasion of foreign countries, championed gun control and introduced legislation for the launch of the National Museum of African American History and Culture but encouraged young people to follow in his footsteps.
Jevin Hodge, a candidate for the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors in Arizona, recounted such a moment when, as the youngest statewide Black Democratic official in the country, he engaged Lewis in conversation about leadership during a 2016 convention.
“John Lewis looked deeply in my eyes and told me to never let my passion fade and great things will happen,” said Hodge, 26, stressing that Lewis always gave his undivided attention.
Later, Hodge drew parallels between Lewis’ professional path and his current campaign in what’s considered one of the nation’s most conservative states.
“It’s one of those moments when someone I admired so much looked at me and said he was proud of me for what I was doing,” he said. “I truly understood what it meant to stand on the shoulders of giants. I felt that giant kneeling down so I could stand on his shoulders and carry the torch in that moment.”
Since Lewis’ death, tributes and events across the U.S. have brought people together to celebrate his legacy and pivot their focus on current social justice movements and the 2020 presidential election. Mourners in Atlanta, for instance, converged in front of a large mural of the late congressional representative last weekend.
On Sunday, members of Occupy DC and Bartenders Against Racism opened an early morning group yoga session at Black Lives Matter Plaza with a tribute to Lewis. D.C. State Board of Education Vice President Markus Batchelor, a budding yogi, counted among several who participated in these activities.
Batchelor, 27, one of nearly 20 candidates for a D.C. Council at-large seat, said the moment served as the ideal reminder for what Lewis represented.
“John Lewis was committed every single day to sharing love, expanding freedom and creating a more equal and just society for all of us,” Batchelor said. “More than that, he realized that this fight isn’t a finishing of a race, but a passing of the baton.”
“He not only made his own impact, but worked to inspire a new generation of young people like me to take up the ministry of ‘good trouble.’ For that reason, his death is indeed a passing and not the end of a long legacy of struggle that [we] can and must overcome.”

Sam P.K. Collins

Sam P.K. Collins has more than a decade of experience as a journalist, columnist and organizer. Sam, a millennial and former editor of WI Bridge, covers education, police brutality, politics, and other...

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