By TONIA HILL
U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D) of the 5th Congressional District of Georgia met with over 600 elementary and high school students at Rockefeller Chapel, 5850 S. Woodlawn Ave., today Wednesday, May 10, to discuss his graphic novel series, “March,” which is also co-authored by Andrew Aydin. The pair also expressed ways in which young people can become agents of change.
The graphic novel series “March” is a trilogy about the Civil Rights Movement. The story is told through the perspective of Lewis who is known for his role in the Civil Rights Movement.
The first volume, “March: Book One,” was published in August 2013, the second volume, “March: Book Two” was published in 2015 and the third, “March: Book Three” was published in 2016.
The series is modeled after the comic book “Martin Luther King and The Montgomery Story,” which was published in 1957-58 by the Fellowship of Reconciliation.
Aydin is an Atlanta, Ga., native and currently serves as Digital Director and Policy Advisor to Lewis in Washington and is an avid comic book reader.
He proposed the idea to adapt Lewis’ experience through the Civil Rights Movement into a graphic novel series to communicate with young people.
Aydin said the stories he heard most as a child about the Civil Rights Movement were centered on Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Rosa Parks.
No one, he said, had told the story of John Lewis’s role in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and other young people involved in the movement.
“We realized that comics are the language of the future,” Aydin said. “You all have grown up on the Internet. You speak in words and pictures. If we are going to teach you everything that we need to, we have to do it in your language.”
Lewis spoke of his very humble beginnings. He was born in Troy, Ala., to a family of sharecroppers and he said from a young age he was “determined to get off the farm and go to school.”
The congressman said as a kid he wanted to be a preacher so he and his siblings would gather up all the chickens on the farm to sit and listen to him preach.
Growing up in the South Lewis was also exposed to segregation. He referred to the “whites only” signs that were put in place in public venues in his hometown and other cities and states across the South.
He began to question his parents and grandparents about segregation, he said their answer was, “That’s the way it is. Don’t get in the way, don’t get in trouble.”
Lewis was a teenager in the 1950s and watched firsthand as the Montgomery Bus Boycott unfolded and Civil Rights leaders such as Parks and King emerged.
“The action of Rosa Parks the words and leadership of Dr. King inspired me to find a way to get in the way,” Lewis said. “I got in trouble, what I call good trouble. When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have to say something, you have to do something.”
Lewis is well known for his role in the Civil Rights Movement. He chaired the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) as a student Lewis organized sit-ins at segregated lunch counters as well as other actions for the movement. While he and others segregated lunch counters, he said that he was spit on and beaten.
Lewis joined SNCC in 1960 for Freedom Rides, which were set to challenge segregation laws at interstate bus terminals.
As Lewis marched to Selma on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, he said he was beaten and bloodied and had a concussion.
During the ‘60s he was arrested over 40 times, and Lewis said he has not looked back since.
He has served as a U.S. Representative for the fifth district in Georgia since 1987.
Although Lewis has seen improvement in racial equality and justice, he said there is still work to do.
“There are forces in America today in high places trying to take us back,” Lewis said. “We’ve come too far and made too much progress. We’re not going back. We’re going forward.”
At the conclusion of their remarks, Lewis and Aydin took questions from students who asked about activism, nonviolence, and what they can do regarding the change in their communities.
Both Aydin and Lewis told students that they were not too young to be activists. They also encouraged students to use technology such as social media to engage with and organize with people of like interests.
Lewis reiterated to the young people to learn and study from other activists involved in the Civil Rights Movement.