Born in rural Alabama, Lewis entered the Civil Rights scene in 1960 as a student at American Baptist Seminary in Nashville when he participated in the lunch counter sit-ins. The next year in 1961 he volunteered as one of the original 13 “Freedom Rider” who rode commercial buses thru the South and challenged the segregated facilities in Southern bus stations; he got beaten on the head by an angry mob and some jail time for that.
As we toured the various sites, John Lewis just kept showing up, sometimes as a leader, but always as somewhere there offering his skills and literally his body to the cause of justice. It seemed he was the “Forrest Gump” of the Civil Rights movement, everywhere you looked, sometimes in the forefront, but often in the background serving in whatever way he could. In interviews Lewis has always impressed me as someone who humbly deflects credit from himself and often praises others. While I have never met him personally, he comes across as a servant leader par excellence.
So I have added John Lewis to my Hall of Heroes. On the trip I bought a book on the history of SNCC and Lewis’ memoir of the Civil Rights movement. Since he is still living, I plan to write him letter; who knows, I might get to talk with him at some point. My hope is to learn more about this humble man, who practiced a “ministry of presence” in all that he does, who often did not get the credit he deserved and when he did, often redirected it to others, a man who continues to serve as an example of one who seeks in Gandhi’s words “to be the change, [he] wants to see.”