Remembering John Lewis

The world lost a great leader this week when Congressman John Lewis passed away. Lots of words have already been written honoring him, and others will do a better job than I can explaining why his legacy matters, and how we as a country can honor his legacy. I strongly encourage you to read the articles I’ve linked to, but the purpose of this post is to tell a personal story, and share how he touched my life, and how he helped to set me on the path I choose to walk to this day.

When I was 11, I had a unique opportunity to shadow Representative Lewis for a day and cast 4 votes on his behalf on the floor of the House of Representatives. The bill of the day was the Patients’ Bill of Rights, which for the first time gave patients the right to sue health insurance plans that cause injury by denying care or providing substandard treatment.

Max, John Lewis, and Max’s dad Eric, on the steps of the Capital Building, October 8, 1999

The day itself was a whirlwind, but a few moments are crystallized in my memory, sitting in Representative Lewis’s office and feeling, for the first time (although definitely not the last), the weight of history, and the struggle it took to build a country that values inclusiveness, and stands against racism. As I watched a video his staff had made about his life and legacy, I was inspired to use my life and career to participate in his work. I didn’t know how at the time (I was 11 years old after all), but my experiences that day have inspired me ever since.

Max in John Lewis’s office, watching a video created for the Representative’s 50th birthday

I was lucky enough to spend the entire day with him, including a private tour of the capital, a ride in the Congress-only elevator and walks through the tunnels that run under DC. The entire day I listened to his stories, to his journey, and his passion. Spending a day with a living legend, who walked with Dr. Martin Luthor King Jr., gave me a sense of connection to that fight, and an understanding that it is not yet over.

Max & John Lewis, in the Capital Rotunda, October 8, 1999

As I looked back through my parents’ photo album from that trip (and thank you mom, for the time you put in to preserving these memories), I was struck by the picture below, by the expressions on our faces as we looked up at the capital. This picture captures John Lewis’s energy, and the hope and passion he inspired in me. He truly led by example.

Across everything I’ve read in the days since his passing, one quote spoke to me more than all the rest, and it’s what I’ll leave you with. I am proud to count myself as one of the people the President is referring to here, when speaking of John Lewis’s Legacy:

“He loved this country so much that he risked his life and his blood so that it might live up to its promise. And through the decades, he not only gave all of himself to the cause of freedom and justice, but inspired generations that followed to try to live up to his example.”

President Barack Obama

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