Profile in Courage

The death of a great man always puts in contrast those of lesser men still living. Congressman John Lewis, who died July 17, distinguished himself as a civil rights leader, risking life and limb in the early days of the movement at the hands of a militant militia masking as police officers. Later, as a Democratic Congressman representing his Atlanta district, he continued fighting against racism and minority oppression through oratory and legislation.

Courageous men often bear insults and injuries for their beliefs not just for themselves but for others. It is their brothers and sisters who benefit from their sacrifice. In contrast, self serving leaders are just that: their actions inevitably further their own personal causes and those of their cronies. Theirs is not oratory but demaguogery marked with fear and exclusion. They build walls; great men tear them down.

John Lewis and others like him are reeds through which the winds of hope sing for all to hear. They understand that the greatest common denominators of the human condition are dignity and compassion, and you cannot have one without the other. Mr. Lewis understood that these qualities were not passive, but required action. He said, “ordinary people with extraordinary vision can redeem the soul of America by getting in what I call good trouble, necessary trouble. Voting and participating in the democratic process are key.” He also acknowledged he was guided by principles higher than himself: “Let the spirit of peace and the power of everlasting love be your guide.”

Men of transparency let the light pass through them; men of darkness block it. Unlike demagogues, Mr. Lewis understand the tighter you clutch something, the more it seeks to escape, like sand in a clenched fist. We are by nature, freedom seekers. Mr. Lewis was a man of color, a scion of slaves who knew bondage first hand. His rhetoric and actions emerged not from textbooks but were expressed through his genes. His repulsion to the systemic racism in the U.S. was visceral; there is nothing neat and polite about dressing a festering wound. Demagogues leave wounds unhealed, encouraging them to fester so they can continue to divide and fill the breach with lies and propaganda

As President Trump continues to implode -— through the inept handling of the Covid-19 pandemic or his dismissal of the Black Live Matter movement, he demonstrates daily he is not the man for the moment, but rather a momentary phenomenon destined to be overshadowed in history by the giant stature of John Lewis and those of his ilk.

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