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ISG Event Recap - John Lewis: Good Trouble

Panel of Speakers:
Reverand Dr. Najuma Smith Pollard, CMCCE at USC
Salam Al Marayati, President of the Muslim Affairs Council
Umar Hakim, Executive Director of Intellect Love Mercy Foundation

The panelists drew inspiration from Dawn Porter’s film “John Lewis: Good Trouble”.  Salam suggested everyone should watch this film. He believes this film should be part of every school curriculum because the film delivers essential information about the Civil Rights Movement, the voting rights movement and the life of John Lewis, a man who showed our country what “Good Trouble” could achieve.

John Lewis was born in Troy, Alabama on February 21, 1940.  His parents were sharecroppers in rural Pike County. He is an icon of the Civil Rights Movement. He served in the United States House of Representatives for Georgia’s 5thcongressional district from 1987 until his death in 2020.  John Lewis was known as the Conscience of the United States Congress.

The Reverend Jim Lawson taught the young John Lewis and other protestors the Gandhian principles of nonviolent resistance and engagement. These principles became the foundation of the protests related to the Civil Rights Movement and the voting rights movement. Theses nonviolent tactics became the foundation of John Lewis’s ‘good trouble’.

John Lewis was a community organizer and one of the original Freedom Riders. He was one of the ‘Big Six’ who organized the 1963 March on Washington. He became the chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) from 1963-1966.

The Selma to Montgomery marches were organized to protest the segregationist policies that denied African Americans the right to vote. On March 7, 1965 John Lewis led six hundred protestors on a Selma to Montgomery march.  The marchers were met by state troopers who beat the marchers with billy clubs and deployed tear gas. John Lewis was beaten and his skull was cracked.  This event came to be known as Bloody Sunday.

The events of Bloody Sunday were televised worldwide. The public reaction to the police brutality facilitated the signing of the Voter Rights Act of 1965.

The right to vote was John Lewis’s passion. “I have said this before and I will say it again, “Lewis said in June 2019, “The vote is precious. It is almost sacred. It is the most powerful non-violent tool we have.” This message is powerful and relevant.

Najuma asked the members of the panel for their initial thoughts about the film. Umar spoke about Lewis’s community organizing and his transition from the role of an activist to that of a Congressman. 

Najuma spoke about what John Lewis did with fear. This is a quote from John Lewis from the film. He describes his action as he attempted to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge, “I lost all sense of fear, really. When you lose your sense of fear, you’re free.  Too many people lived in fear during those days.” Najuma spoke about the act of losing your fear of bodily harm and the experience of freedom when the fear is abandoned.  She also recognized Lewis’s passionate fight for voting rights for all.

Salam recognized the multiple sacrifices that were made to achieve voting rights. He recognized we have a long way to go and there is a current struggle going on in our “imperfect union”. Salam also reminded us that the presidency of Barack Obama, the candidacy of Kamala Harris for vice president and the election of Ihan Omar and Rashida Tlaib became possible because of John Lewis’s fearless dedication to social justice.

Each panelist spoke about the function and power of historical narrative. The film uses archival footage to tell the story of the key moments of the Civil Rights Movement and voting rights movement. Before his death, John Lewis visited Black Lives Matter Plaza, which has become a symbol for the nation’s fight for racial justice. In his posthumous essay published in The New York Times, he said: “I just had to see it for myself, that after many years of silent witness, the truth is still marching on”. There is an urgency to know and understand the narrative of the Civil Rights Movement.  That struggle is not over.

The panel discussed the problems related to school curriculums and the Muslim narrative.  Knowing the historical narrative is a critical element to understanding Islam.  If the historical narrative is not known, then there is a diminished understanding of Islamic faith and traditions.

Salam spoke about the desire to make Islam known for what it is and for Islam to be identified as an American religion. The founding members of the Islamic Center of Southern California dedicated their efforts to achieve that goal.

The panelists addressed the action of belief and faith as the core of social justice. There was a firm consensus that the action of working for social justice is a faith based calling.  John Lewis was a man of faith and he believed the Civil Rights movement was an extension of his faith.  Making ‘good trouble’ was inspired by the Almighty.  John Lewis said, “The Civil Rights Movement was based on faith. Many of us who were participants in this movement saw our involvement as an extension of our faith. We saw ourselves doing the work of the Almighty. Segregation and racial discrimination were not in keeping with our faith, so we had to do something.”  The panel agreed: Submit to God and do the work. 

Umar spoke about John Lewis’s gentleness and humility. He echoed the words of President Obama: “Considering his enormous impact on the history of our country, what always struck those who met John was his gentleness and humility.”

Najuma referred to ‘crossing the bridge moments’ which have everything to do with our response to systemic racism and voter suppression. Salam reminded us that Colin Kaepernick had a crossing the bridge: moment.  It took several seasons and George Floyd’s death for people to join him.

The panelists offered thoughts about voter suppression. Salam asked people to demand funding for the Postal Service. He suggested assigning poll watchers to verify legal practices were being afforded each voter. He cautions people to seek the truth, to be vigilant and verify information. Umar is focused on voter registration.  His message: You do not have a little voice. Najuma identified John Lewis’s life as being her North Star.

Representative John Lewis received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011. This is what President Obama said about him: “There’s a quote inscribed over a doorway in Nashville, where students first refused to leave lunch counters 51 years ago this February.  And the quote said, “If not us, then who?  If not now, then when?”  It’s a question John Lewis has been asking his entire life.  It’s what led him back to the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma after he had already been beaten within an inch of his life days before.  It’s why, time and again, he faced down death so that all of us could share equally in the joys of life.  It’s why all these years later, he is known as the Conscience of the United States Congress, still speaking his mind on issues of justice and equality.  And generations from now, when parents teach their children what is meant by courage, the story of John Lewis will come to mind -- an American who knew that change could not wait for some other person or some other time; whose life is a lesson in the fierce urgency of now.


Thu, June 13 2024 7 Sivan 5784