It is often said that we shouldn't wait for a funeral to tell people how we feel about them. Today, as Congressman John Robert Lewis' memorial services began in Troy, I am so thankful that we had the chance to celebrate with the living, breathing, speaking, dancing John Lewis in February 2018.
As the Chairman of the Reunion Troy Committee, and with the prompting of Mayor Reeves, it was a honor to be an organizer of John Lewis Day, co-hosted with City of Troy, Alabama and in conjunction with Troy University's Leadership Conference as part of the Alabama 200 Bicentennial.
February 8, 2018 was a beautiful day and there was truly a spirit of peace and joy as our community gathered on the lawn of the Troy Public Library with a large banner proudly proclaiming "John Lewis Day" draped across the front of the building.
"I cannot believe what I am witnessing," Lewis said in his remarks at the podium that day. "When I drove up and saw the sign, I started crying and I've been crying ever since."
He was truly a humble and appreciative gentleman. He took his time with anyone and everyone that wanted to speak with him that day. He spent extra time with the children. His security team told me he never once complains about getting stopped in airports or interrupted at a meal.
After the crowds dispersed, he walked along photographs, reminiscing and explaining the context as if we didn't already know. As if they weren't in the history books and national archives.
It was a day where life had come full circle for our native son and his relationship with our community.
The State of Alabama presented Lewis a marker that now stands at our library. It was a local library that had once denied Lewis a library card at the age of 16. Yet, anyone can now visit the Troy Public Library and read about the civil rights icon now only on the marker outside, but inside the walls that proudly houses a collection of books written by and about John Lewis.
Chancellor Hawkins of Troy University, formerly Troy State College that had denied Lewis admission in 1957, spoke with admiration about Congressman Lewis' leadership that day. Although denied admission many years ago, Lewis was later bestowed an honororay degree and worked with Troy University several times in recent years with a keen interest in the Rosa Parks Museum and as a speaker for the annual African American Leadership Conference. A conference that will now be called "The Congressman John Lewis Leadership Conference."
The significance of Lewis being denied admission in 1957 led to that ordained meeting with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Monrgomery where Dr. King called him the "boy from Troy" and the rest is history.
Lewis has received worldwide recognition and awards for his courage, his example and his perserverance in fighting for civil rights which changed the social landscape of our country.
Yet, there is nothing like coming home. Even Jesus recognized that a good man can be revered everywhere but denied respect in his hometown.
While we perhaps were delayed in a proper tribute, I am thankful we had the opportunity to recognize and celebrate Congressman John Lewis's life and legacy with him that February day. A day that didn't wait until he had passed to celebrate with the living. A day that had come full circle.
We ended the program that day circled and holding hands as a community, singing. May our circle be unbroken.