“We are one people. We are one family. We all live in the same house. The American house. The world house,” Rep. John Lewis said to the Concordia community and area high school students.
Lewis, a Georgia congressman and civil rights activist, Andrew Aydin, digital director and policy advisor to Lewis, and graphic novelist Nate Powell visited campus to present on Concordia’s Summer Book Read: “March: Book Three,” a best-selling graphic novel on the Civil Rights Movement.
“This book is for all of America,” Lewis said. “It is for all people, but especially young people, to understand the essence of the Civil Rights Movement, to walk through the pages of history to learn about the philosophy and discipline of nonviolence, to be inspired to stand up to speak out, and to find a way to get in the way when you see something that is not right, not fair, not just.”
Audience members greeted Lewis with a warm welcome and a standing ovation. Dr. Richard Chapman, professor of history, introduced the speakers: “Our authors put their march where their mouths are. They are co-creators of the ‘March’ trilogy, the first comic book ever to be so recognized. [National Book Award for Young People's Literature]”
The Concordia community, along with 250 high school students from the area, listened as Lewis began to tell his story about when he was a child and went to the library in his hometown in rural Alabama during strict racial segregation, where they denied him a library card solely based on the color of his skin. Years later, after his time as an adult fighting segregation, “I went back to that same library for my first book signing. At the end of my book signing, they gave me a library card,” he said.
Lewis’ life shows the struggles that many African Americans and their supporters endured for civil rights in the 1960s.
“March will tell you that we faced the dogs and fire hoses,” he said. “March will tell you that we have the right to protest for what is right. We must never ever give up.”
Lewis met Martin Luther King Jr. at the age of 18. After this moment, Lewis dedicated his life to fighting for civil rights. Later, he was part of a group of activists who were beaten while trying to board segregated buses.
“We wanted to create a beloved community, create a society, for all humankind equal in dignity,” he said.
Twenty-five years later, Lewis was elected to Georgia’s 5th congressional district. He was arrested 40 times in the 1960s and ’70s, and has been arrested another five times as a congressman.
“And I’m sure I’ll get arrested for something else,” he told the audience. “It is the power of peace. It is the power of the philosophy of nonviolence. It is the power of love."
Co-author Aydin spoke on the difficult process of getting “March” published. He wanted to find a way to accurately depict Lewis’ amazing life as an activist.
“I laid there that night and I was like, ‘you know, John Lewis should write a comic book,’” he said.
Lewis agreed, but they faced many rejections until one publisher finally said yes. In the end, “March: Book Three” won the National Book Award, a first for a graphic novel.
Aydin left the stage with a reminder to students that social media wasn’t always so prevalent, and that the current generation has the tools to organize better than any previous generation. He asked the audience to think about what King or Gandhi may have tweeted.
“When we don’t organize, we can be overwhelmed,” Aydin said. “Take these lessons, understand the principles of nonviolence that create such a public pressure that Congress has no other choice than to change.”
Powell, a graphic artist, has been publishing comics for 25 years. He believes that every student needs a good civil rights education. The step toward a better future is “seeing connections about seemingly different struggles,” he said. “Seeing equality that is something that is in everyone’s interest.”
“Inequality is not something that you just fix once. It requires vigilance,” Powell said.
Lewis left Concordia students with a powerful reminder and a call to action: “You too can do something. You have a voice.”
Danyel Moe '17 is a content specialist at Concordia.