Dear Council friends,
Happy New Year! I sincerely hope y’all had a good holiday, for it looks like the weeks ahead will be busy with several difficult pieces of legislation to consider. Your job is not easy . . . in fact balancing the desires of constituents with considering the best directions for our city is pretty much impossible, so take advantage of the opportunities you have for rest and to connect with family and friends, and know that there are even a few of us praying for you in the hard work you face.
My reason for writing today actually has to do with a proposal that should be one of the easier decisions you face – the resolution to proclaim March 23 as John Lewis Day. I can imagine that there may be some who question this proposal given that Rep. Lewis has spent much of his life serving the people of Atlanta and isn’t a native son of our city. And yet, if there is any person that we should claim as our own adopted son, it should be John Lewis, for his witness to justice during his time among us is one that should not be forgotten.
Frankly, I spent much of my life unfamiliar with Lewis. As a white, middle class kid, I was aware of The Movement for Civil Rights through reports on TV, but living in the place of privilege that I enjoyed it was a peripheral knowledge. I knew that something new was happening, and it became more of a reality when my mother and I moved “back home” to Nashville in 1969 and I experienced first hand the realities of the attempts to overcome segregation in the schools. And yet, the heroes of the movement (beyond Dr. King who was an ever present figure) were foreign to me.
It was in adulthood that I finally picked up David Halberstam’s book “The Children” which documented the Nashville lunch counter sit-ins, and more importantly the influence of the Nashville students on the shape and success of The Movement. For the first time I was introduced to figures like Diane Nash and C.T. Vivian, and came to discover that the Jim Lawson I had worked with in the United Methodist Church was as seminal a figure in the movement as King. In the midst of it was the cadre of students from American Baptist College (a treasure of African American leadership hidden to most white Nashvillians) and this quiet young man named John Lewis.
Of all the figures in the early days Lewis seems like the least dynamic, and maybe even the least likely presence to emerge as a leader. But what Lewis lacked in charisma he made up in his steadfastness of purpose. This was a man who absolutely believed that the cause for justice was so important that he was willing to give his life for the cause . . . and there were several times when he came close to becoming a martyr in that belief. Lewis was a man who recognized that the powers and principalities that would suggest that a certain group of people weren’t actually people were evil, and he was willing to confront those powers and principalities no matter the cost. His body continues to show signs of the scars he obtained in the pursuit of equality, and yet those scars are a witness to the truth that perseverance in the pursuit of truth and love ultimately will overcome evil and hate.
Halberstam’s book opened up for me a Nashville I had never known before, even though I had lived here most of my life, and provided perspective for understanding community dynamics that I had never considered. And the examples of “The Children” have continued to walk with me, urging me on to care about the plight of the poor, marginalized, and voiceless of our city. I suggest that this book should be an important part of your library of understanding Nashville.
Lewis is a modern saint who continues to serve the people of Georgia and our nation in a quiet, unassuming way. Like most saints, he would simply say that he was doing what he was supposed to do for saints rarely recognize their gifts to the world. Thus it is up to us to life up these moral exemplars as lives to be recognized and learned from.
So I hope that you will consider without hesitation this resolution for it offers a chance for our entire city to learn about those who stood up for truth and brought change to our nation which can never be undone.
Thanks for your time,