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School Board Honors Civil Rights Warrior John Lewis (08-11-20)

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Shannon Haber, 213-393-1289                                       August 11, 2020


School Board Honors Civil Rights Warrior John Lewis

Approved Unanimously and Co-Sponsored by All Members                                  

LOS ANGELES – August 10, 2020 –The Los Angeles Unified Board of Education unanimously approved a resolution today to honor former Congressman John Lewis, “and commemorates his legacy of tirelessly working to secure civil liberties for all, thereby building and ensuring a more perfect Union.”

Lewis, who died last month at the age of 80, began his fight against racial segregation as a child in Troy, Alabama after he was refused a public library card because he was Black. Seeking advice on how to become the first Black student at the local college, he wrote a letter to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and became his protégé. As head of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) Lewis, age 23, was the youngest speaker at the March On Washington. Championing non-violent protest, he was brutally beaten during sit-ins at white-only lunch counters, on Freedom Rides challenging segregation in public interstate travel on buses and trains, and most famously, during the March on Selma, crusading for the right of African-Americans to vote. Elected to Congress in 1986, he never gave up the fight against racial injustice, and made his last public appearance in June on Black Lives Matter Plaza near the White House in Washington, D.C.

“John Lewis encouraged us to be involved in ‘good, necessary trouble,’” Superintendent Austin Beutner said. “And by involved, he meant to do the work, walk the walk and take action. Words to live by.”

School Board Member Dr. George J. McKenna III, who is African-American, sponsored the resolution. Like Lewis, he is also a veteran of the Civil Rights Movement. “We valued being right versus being good. Some Black people thought they were being ‘good’ by taking their seat in the back of the bus. We chose to be ‘right’ and not to ride the segregated bus at all,” Dr. McKenna said. “There’s an old song in the Black church, ‘Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen.’  Bloodied, beaten unconscious and close to death time and time again, John Lewis never resorted to violence. Spit on, burning cigarettes put out on his body as he sat at a lunch counter reserved only for whites. Arrested more than 40 times, and even thrown in Mississippi’s inhumane Parchman prison, he refused to retreat from danger. John Lewis called it getting into ‘good trouble, necessary trouble.’ A lesser man would have quit, punched back or at least rested on his laurels after speaking at the March On Washington in 1963.  He never ‘let this cup pass.’ We honor him for his courage, his unwavering commitment and for making a profound difference.”

“I want to stand by Board Member Dr. George McKenna III and his resolution honoring Congressman John Robert Lewis who devoted his life to protecting civil liberties and an activist for human rights,” Board President Dr. Richard Vladovic said. “Not only was he a lifelong leader in the Civil Rights Movement, he served as a United States Representative for over 33 years with unwavering honor and wisdom. There are many who are still inspired by him and his work every day.”

“Thank you, Congressman John Robert Lewis, your life changed our world and inspired generations of community leaders to transform and lead radical change for racial equity and voting rights for all,” Board Member Mónica García said. “We live in the world of ‘good trouble’ and we will continue to carry out your legacy and work to share love amongst each other. Mil gracias Congressman Lewis.”

"Today, I am proud to join my colleague, Dr. George McKenna, in honoring the legacy of former congressman and civil rights legend, John Lewis,” Board Member Scott M. Schmerelson said. “Congressman Lewis understood that voting and participating in the democratic process is key to a fair, equitable, and peaceful society where every vote counts and economic and social policy is driven by the will of all the people, not just the rich and powerful. We must make sure that current and future generations of our students learn about the life and example of John Lewis and thrive in the light of this great American."   

“I had the pleasure of meeting John Lewis a decade ago on the Supreme Court steps, where he reminded us that ‘One day you have a low, and another day you have a high, but eventually you get it right,’” Board Member Nick Melvoin said. “He fought for justice with the same simple, yet determined, spirit—that you don’t win every day, and that progress isn’t linear, but you get back up, and keep going——until you get it right. He might not be with us anymore, but he certainly left us our marching orders.”

“We honor John Lewis for his unceasing struggle for racial justice in this country,” Board Member Jackie Goldberg said, “Especially today, as we learn that a Black woman, Senator Kamala Harris, for the first time has been chosen to be a candidate for Vice President.”

"I’m proud to stand alongside my colleagues in celebrating the life and work of Congress member John Lewis,” Board Member Kelly Gonez said. “And hope that his legacy continues to inspire us to fight for racial justice and educational opportunity for all of our students here at Los Angeles Unified."