The nation lost two heroes: John Lewis and Cordy Tindell “C.T.” Vivian. Both died on July 17, in the midst of a national reckoning.
Our country is facing the reality of decades of institutionalized and systemic racism, generational inequities for Black, Indigenous and People of Color. Social uprisings in more than 2,000 cities across the country have shone a floodlight on America’s racist history and its long journey to equality for all.
Lewis and Vivian, both impacted our country in unique ways – fighting for equality in voting, education, and always challenging the status quo. Their early efforts were not warmly welcomed. Both men were part of a resistance movement that used a myriad of strategies to push against Jim Crow and the segregationist policies that dominated their time.
I am reflecting on the difficulty of pushing for change and challenging systemic inequalities that have been embedded for decades. Lewis and Vivian knew this well. On each Freedom Ride, boycott, march, and protest, these two men put their lives on the line fighting to create a country they did not inhabit but knew they could create. A world where Black Americans would earn the right to vote and the right to live as equals to White residents.
The reality is: there is still work undone – from ensuring equitable access to healthcare, particularly in the midst of a global health pandemic; the need for new policies, practices, and procedures that eliminate the racist foundations on which many of our institutions were built offers an opportunity for local leaders to take the reins to usher in communities committed to equity and equality.
As I watch the images from our cities across the country, where hundreds of residents are filling the streets, I see the rise of a new civil rights movement. The passion of Lewis and Vivian and so many of the luminaries of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement resonates in today’s protests.
Those in the streets are crying out for leaders to dismantle a system that has historically and consistently disproportionately excluded Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. From education to finance, policing, housing, and more the inequalities that been embedded in our institutions, our policies, and our laws is again under scrutiny.
And while there is a lot that is challenging our local leaders – COVID-19, police-community relations, declining economies – addressing these inequalities may be one of the most important.
We can learn from leaders like Lewis who were uncompromising in their fight for justice but full of grace and mercy towards his opponents and those with whom he did not agree. So, as we celebrate Lewis and Vivian, honor their legacy, and remember their bold actions, may we all be committed to John Lewis’ mantra: “Get in good trouble, necessary trouble, and help redeem the soul of America.”
About the Author:
Clarence E. Anthony is the CEO & Executive Director of the National League of Cities. Follow him on Twitter: @ceanthony50.