The legendary John Lewis
John Lewis at the "Linking Together: March to Save Our Care" Rally at the U.S. Capitol on June 28th, 2017.

“You are the light. Nev­er let any­one — any per­son or any force —damp­en, dim or dimin­ish your light. Study the path of oth­ers to make your way eas­i­er and more abun­dant. Lean toward the whis­pers of your own heart, dis­cov­er the uni­ver­sal truth, and fol­low its dictates.”

– John Lewis

Guid­ed by his core val­ues of empa­thy and mutu­al respon­si­bil­i­ty, leg­endary civ­il rights leader and Unit­ed States Rep­re­sen­ta­tive John Lewis strived every day to be a light in the dark­ness for oth­ers to fol­low. Whether march­ing in the streets for civ­il rights or occu­py­ing the well of the House to demand gun respon­si­bil­i­ty, he nev­er hes­i­tat­ed to con­front injus­tice by mak­ing what he called good trou­ble.

John Lewis became a liv­ing leg­end and an inspi­ra­tion for peo­ple around the world because he nev­er stopped work­ing to build a bet­ter soci­ety and a more peace­ful world. Again and again, he put his life at risk to secure greater free­dom for all, nev­er allow­ing any adver­sary to damp­en, dim, or dimin­ish his light.

His death is all the hard­er for us to bear because these are dark times for our coun­try and world. John Lewis was tru­ly a light in that dark­ness. He nev­er stopped lead­ing by exam­ple and nev­er gave in to fear. Though an elo­quent speak­er, his actions spoke more loud­ly than any speech he ever deliv­ered. He showed mil­lions of peo­ple what courage is. He lived it. Prac­ticed it. Taught it.

“I say to peo­ple today, ‘You must be pre­pared if you believe in some­thing. If you believe in some­thing, you have to go for it. As indi­vid­u­als, we may not live to see the end.’ ”

– John Lewis

Eight years ago, as a del­e­gate to the 2012 Demo­c­ra­t­ic Nation­al Con­ven­tion, I had the great hon­or of meet­ing John Lewis and hear­ing him speak in a small group set­ting. He was lead­ing a ses­sion of the DNC’s Vot­ing Rights Insti­tute in Char­lotte before one of the night­ly con­ven­tion gen­er­al ses­sions, impress­ing upon us the need to exer­cise and ardent­ly defend our hard-won right to vote.

I’d seen and heard John Lewis speak on tele­vi­sion many, many times before that day. But it was some­thing else entire­ly to be in the same room with him, with no fil­ter. It was an incred­i­bly uplift­ing expe­ri­ence that I trea­sure to this day.

In the hours since his office relayed the news of his pass­ing, oth­ers have remarked how their encoun­ters with John Lewis lift­ed them up, too.

He was a font of kind­ness and encour­age­ment, espe­cial­ly to young pro­gres­sive lead­ers strug­gling to com­bat sys­temic racism and oppression.

Amer­i­ca’s North Star. The Con­science of the Con­gress. Civ­il rights leg­end. Amer­i­can icon. These and sim­i­lar phras­es have been offered up in trib­ute to his life this week­end, and right­ful­ly so, for John Lewis was the best of us.

“Use the words of the move­ment to pace your­self. We used to say that ours is not the strug­gle of one day, one week, or one year. Ours is not the strug­gle of one judi­cial appoint­ment or pres­i­den­tial term. Ours is the strug­gle of a life­time, or maybe even many life­times, and each one of us in every gen­er­a­tion must do our part.”

– John Lewis

John Lewis knew that when his time on this Earth came to an end, his work would be unfin­ished. That did not trou­ble him, for he knew that the caus­es to which he cared so pas­sion­ate­ly about would be car­ried for­ward by a new gen­er­a­tion of lead­ers. Though he is no longer with us, we can and should take com­fort in his words and his lega­cy of good trou­ble. As hard as it may be to go on, we must.

Rest in pow­er, John, and thank you for show­ing us how to lead a great life.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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