Having read “March: Book One” by Rep. John Lewis and co-author (and congressional aide) Andrew Aydin, the teens were treated to living history Friday when the veteran of Selma spoke to a packed gym audience.
In a 22-minute talk that began with a young man calling to Lewis “I love you” (triggering the response “I love you, too”), the 78-year-old Georgia Democrat offered inspiration and motivation. He recalled meeting the Rev. King at 17.
He exhorted the minority majority audience to be brave and courageous: “Never give up. Never give in. Be optimistic. We must vote like we’ve never voted before.”
But lest he draw too dire a picture, Lewis added: “It’s all going to work out. You can do it.”
Students gasped when Lewis noted that he’d been arrested 40 times during the civil rights era of the 1960s. (His most recent arrest was two years ago, demanding House action on gun control.)
The point of “March,” Lewis and his partners said, was to show how the struggle for rights (also gay, women’s and immigrants) is continuing.
“Inequality is not fixed once,” Powell said. “This is not a drill, and it is never over.”
Aydin introduced himself as a Muslim-American but not “Oh, you’re a good Muslim” as some told him.
“I’m definitely not a good Muslim,” he said. “I’m a rabble rouser and proud of it.”
He told about how 10 years ago, “nobody thought of teaching a comic book in school,” including one of his high school teachers, who said a comic book was not a “real book.”
“She now teaches graphic novels in [her] classroom,” Aydin said. He said the “March” trilogy was an example of “an idea whose time has come. Join us — and march.”
Powell, who grew up in Alabama, said reading X-Men comics helped develop his social conscience.
“Being part of that gateway drug, comics continue to change lives,” he said. “That’s my PSA. Stand up for the art form of comics.”
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Lewis didn’t address specific current events except to decry the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy that led to family separations at the border.
“It doesn’t make sense in our country for … millions (of immigrants) to be living in fear,” he said. “Separating children from their parents is vicious, and it’s evil and it’s sick. It must never, ever happen again.”
He leaned toward Lewis, smiled and said, “Sorry, man.”
Later, a Morse High School art teacher and her students presented Lewis a painting showing the word “Vote” made of crossed arms of different colors.
Rep. Susan Davis, who arrived after Lewis spoke, hailed her Capitol Hill colleague and reprised her story about meeting a student who said she didn’t vote for “fear of making a mistake.”
Davis told a fidgety crowd it was never wrong to exercise the right to cast a ballot.
At 11:45 a.m., with Lewis still signing autographs and posing for pictures, a Morse official spoke into a bullhorn — the kind once used by MLK at rallies but also by Segregationists to warn against “unlawful assemblies.”