Civil rights champion John Lewis pushes activism at NYC discussion with teachers

Congressman John Lewis. (Photo by Mark Hallum)

Congressman John Lewis looked back on the years since he was beaten on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama as he discussed his graphic novel trilogy March with students and teacher from New York City public schools on Monday.

Mayor Bill de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza participated in the event at the New-York Historical Society and stressed the importance of the inclusion of such novels in the city’s Social Studies and Civics for All program, which teaches children about activism.

Lewis mentioned he had been arrested numerous times at the height of the Civil Rights Movement, and a few other times as a congressman — namely during a 2016 sit-in on the House floor for gun control measures.

Students listened as Lewis spoke about his upbringing in Troy, Alabama, where he was taught by his parents to avoid challenging segregation and to stay out of trouble. He did not listen and instead joined other Civil Rights leaders in the cause for freedom.

“I got arrested a few times during the 60s, about 40 times, and since I’ve been in congress another five times,” Lewis said. “If you see something that is not right, not fair, not just … you cannot afford to be quiet.”

Lewis encouraged young people 18 to 24 to challenge the government to act on issues such as climate change and that although they may be too young to vote, they can influence dialogue. The mayor echoed those sentiments.

“That is good trouble. When students fight for mental health services and restorative justice in their schools, that’s good trouble. That’s not to be held back. That’s to be encouraged,” de Blasio said. “And the March trilogy is good trouble because it’s going to provoke thinking. It’s going to get people feeling things that maybe a more traditional approach to education might not spark the same way. But this will spark people’s hearts, it will spark their sense of possibility.”

Mark Hallum