Congressman John Lewis speaks at ETHS on graphic novel trilogy about Civil Rights Movement

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Mariana Alfaro/Daily Senior Staffer

U.S. Rep. John Lewis answers a question from a young audience member during his visit to Evanston Township High School on Monday. Lewis encouraged young students to become activists and speak up against injustice.

Mariana Alfaro, Web Editor

When U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-Georgia) was first asked to write a series of graphic novels about his involvement in the Civil Rights Movement, he waved it off.

Lewis, who as a young boy was inspired to join the Civil Rights Movement after reading a graphic novel about Martin Luther King Jr., only agreed to the books after Andrew Aydin, his aide, promised to co-write them with him. Lewis said he wrote the books with the hope that they will help American kids understand the value of non-violent protest.

As a young man, Lewis participated in numerous peaceful protests during the Civil Rights Movement. He was the youngest among the “Big Six” civil rights leaders and was one of the original 13 Freedom Riders. At age 23, Lewis helped organize the March on Washington, in which King gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.

During the event at ETHS Monday night, which was sponsored by the Family Action Network, Lewis spoke to the importance of standing up for one’s beliefs, especially when met with oppression and injustice.

“When you see something that is not right and not fair and not just, you have an obligation, you have a mission and a mandate to speak up, to speak out,” he said.

Lewis recalled his experiences growing up as a black person in Georgia and how he became involved with the movement after meeting King as a college student. He recalled his 40 arrests during the ‘60s, saying he probably will get arrested again at some point, given his consistent activism.

He encouraged the audience to continue fighting for progress when faced with adversity, recalling times during the Civil Rights Movement when Americans came together to fight segregation.

“We must never, ever be afraid, never lose hope and never give up,” he said. “Never hate … just love everybody.”

All three books in the Lewis’ and Aydin’s series “March” became New York Times best-sellers, with the third and final book debuting this month. Incoming ETHS freshmen as well as faculty and staff were all given a copy of “March: Book One” as part of the school’s book program.

Aydin, Lewis’s digital director and policy advisor, also spoke during the event. He talked about how it took him months to convince Lewis to write a graphic novel and, after that, how it took the pair years to write the series and find a publisher.

He said they never gave up on the series because they believed high school students tend to graduate without learning more than the basics about the Civil Rights Movement. With the books, he said, he hopes they will be able to see themselves in the young activist Lewis once was.

“Imagine if we could instill social consciousness in every 9-year-old,” Aydin said.

When an audience member asked the pair if they ever felt too young or too old to join a justice movement, Lewis said activism has no age limit. Instead, all one has to do is to “love everybody,” he said.

Aydin told the audience member that people are constantly looking for their “Selma moment,” in reference to the Selma to Montgomery civil rights march Lewis helped organize.

“Non-violence is so much more than these grand gestures that the media tells us it is,” he said. “Everyone is looking for a Selma moment and what we’re trying to show in ‘March’ are all the small moments – those contributions from every single person – that add up to a Selma.”

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