It is a sobering truth. Despite our hard work, we may never see the fruit of the seeds we painstakingly plant today.
I’ve spent a good bit of today watching the coverage of our national goodbye to civil rights activist, statesman, and legislator Congressman John Lewis. Representative Lewis, who died on July 17th at the age of 80, is the first black lawmaker to lie in state at the Capitol Rotunda and the gathering of dignitaries today was inspirational. Both Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell shared their personal stories of being in the crowd during the March on Washington in 1963 when then 23 year old SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) chairman John Lewis spoke from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, the youngest person to take the podium that day. Although his friend Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech that day is more widely remembered, it is important to note that John Lewis has been on the front lines of the battle for racial justice for seven decades. Seven decades!
As I was listening to the coverage today, one of the commentators mentioned John Lewis won’t be around for the “last leg of the race,” a nod to the “already and not yet” nature of racial justice work in our country. Yet when he visited the newly designated Black Lives Matter Plaza in D.C. last month, Representative Lewis remained ever hopeful that his work had not been in vain and his life long vision would someday be fully and completely realized. 80 years old and dying from pancreatic cancer, he had this to say that day:
“It’s very moving. Very moving. Impressive. I think the people in DC and around nation are sending a mightily powerful and strong message to the rest of the world that WE WILL GET THERE.”
Decades of back-breaking, sometimes life-threatening work, numerous setbacks, and yet he remained hopeful.
As I thought about his legacy, it reminded me of the biblical story of Moses wandering around the desert for 40 years and, just when the Promised Land was within reach, realizing he would not be there to see it. Instead, God chose Joshua to take over from there.
Joshua was scared to go forward without Moses, so God had to sit him down for a little pep talk. Here is what God says to Joshua in Joshua 1:6-9:
As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. 6 Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them. 7 “Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. 8 Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. 9 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”
I wonder if these words might give us comfort and strengthen our resolve as John Lewis passes the baton to us?
I just finished the book “Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor” by Layla F. Saad. I’ve been reading it with a group of other middle aged white women coaches and we meet once a week to talk about how awkward, confused and ill-equipped we feel to do this work AND how much it matters that we do it anyway.
The closing pages of Saad’s book says this: “The choice is yours. The moment is now. Help change the world. Become a good ancestor.” As a woman with more of my life behind me than in front of me, I’m particularly moved by the words “become a good ancestor.” What does it mean to be a good ancestor? Did John Lewis leave the world a little better than he found it? Will we?
Bottom line, cleaning up the mess of racism, inequality, and injustice in our country is not going to be completed in my lifetime, but that doesn’t give me an excuse to quit showing up. If I am going to be a good ancestor to those who come after me, then I have to do my part today. I’m not dead yet. And neither are you. As you have heard me say a million times; we show up, do the next right thing, and trust the process.
Planting seeds, clearing the weeds, watering the soil and waiting for the good stuff to grow.
If you need ideas about how to plant seeds, let me know. You may not be surprised to know that I have some opinions about which battles to fight for the next 99 days 🙂 #wearamask #vote
I’ll leave you with these words from our good ancestor John Lewis:
“When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have to speak up. You have to say something, you have to do something…Find a way to get in the way. Find a way to get in trouble. Good trouble. Necessary trouble.”
Thank you for your service, Representative Lewis. You are a good ancestor. A man who showed us what it looks like to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God. Well done, good and faithful servant!
Well stated. I really appreciate your words from the heart. Thanks for joining in the fight in doing the next right thing to leave our descendants with a better nation and world.
Kelly Johnson says
Jackie, so good to hear from you! I’m glad you found my musings meaningful. We have to show up and do the work, for all those who come behind us. God bless right back at you! <3
Mary Beth says
Thanks, Kelly, for the reminder that we all carry the obligation to move forward in all aspects of social justice to full create the Beloved Community John Lewis envisioned and dedicated his life to realizing.
Kelly Johnson says
Thanks Mary Beth! Great to hear from you and so glad you found my thoughts meaningful. YES to our continued work towards Beloved Community!
Brenda Norman says
This is great Kelly ! Your heart and passion for Gods human creation is certainly felt. I have shared this on FB and have had several people reach out to compliment your article. May God continue to use you as His vessel as you continue to serve mankind. I am blessed to have crossed paths with you.
Kelly Johnson says
Brenda, how lovely to hear from you! Thank you for your words of encouragement! I’m glad others found my thoughts meaningful as well. Watching Representative Lewis’s funeral today, I’m struck again by how blessed we are by his example to us. Blessings to you, my friend!