On August 28, 1963, twenty-three-year-old John Lewis stood before the Lincoln Memorial and asked a massive crowd 250,000 strong, “How long can we be patient? We want our freedom and we want it now.”
Lewis was one of the “Big Six” organizers of the now famous March on Washington (for jobs and freedom), which remains one of the largest and most successful shows of non-violent direct action in U.S. history. The march helped pave the way for the passage of the Civil Rights Act, which became law in July of the following year.
Lewis went on to dedicate his life to the civil rights movement and public service as both an activist and a politician.
On July 17, 2020, John Lewis succumbed to the pancreatic cancer he was diagnosed with just months earlier. Days earlier, he penned a farewell message, which was published by the New York Times on July 30, the day he was laid to rest. In it, he spoke of being filled with hope.
“Millions of people motivated simply by human compassion laid down the burdens of division. Around the country and the world, you set aside race, class, age, language and nationality to demand respect for human dignity.”
Lewis beckoned, “Ordinary people with extraordinary vision can redeem the soul of America by getting in what I call good trouble, necessary trouble.”
Encouraging Americans to vote, study history, and build alliances across movements around the world, he ended saying, “Though I may not be here with you, I urge you to answer the highest calling of your heart and stand up for what you truly believe. In my life I have done all I can to demonstrate that the way of peace, the way of love and nonviolence is the more excellent way. Now it is your turn to let freedom ring.”
“When historians…write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war. So, I say to you, walk with the wind, brothers and sisters, and let the spirit of peace and the power of everlasting love be your guide.”
In the wake of his passing, I wept at hearing Mr. Lewis’s plea of “How long can we be patient?” It’s tragic to think of a life lived longing and working for the peace that emerges only when justice and equity prevail, to ultimately not have that vision fully realized. It is heartbreaking that Mr. Lewis never reveled in that abiding peace.
Yet, it is heartening to imagine that Anti-Bias, Anti-Racism (ABAR) Suffield and similar grassroots groups across the country made Mr. Lewis hopeful in his last days. ABAR Suffield emerged to stand in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. We now work to inform, create connections and drive policy-based changes that will elevate Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) and protect and empower all marginalized communities. We are inspired by and grateful for Mr. Lewis’s life and work and hope to help carry on his legacy.
ABAR Suffield meets on the green every Wednesday evening from 5 –6 p.m., where we stand up for the people in our community who suffer from racism and oppression. We are building community, developing moral courage and creating a space where justice can and will thrive.
We all owe Mr. Lewis a debt of gratitude. Perhaps to thank him, you might consider joining us some Wednesday evening. Stand up for what you believe in. Be inspired by the honks and waves of support and be motivated by those who reject our message of equity, justice, and peace.
And if you’re an “all lives matter” person, you’ll be pleased to know that we all agree. In our hearts, we firmly believe that all lives are precious. But we also know that we cannot maintain our integrity and declare that “all lives matter” until Black and Brown lives enjoy the same dignity and respect that white lives typically do.
Join us. Learn with us. Stand up with us. Let’s “walk with the wind and let the spirit of peace and the power of everlasting love be (our) guide.” Let’s create a new path forward, together.
To learn more about ABAR Suffield, please visit the Facebook group of the same name or email us at ABARSuffield@gmail.com.