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Rep. John Lewis: Lessons on ‘Never, Ever Giving Up’

December 22, 2014

“Take note of what is happening in America. I think we must get it right here,” said Lewis. “If we get it right in America, maybe we could serve as a model for the rest of the world…We’ve got to look after each other and care for each other, and leave this little piece of real estate a little greener, a little cleaner, and a little more peaceful for the generation yet unborn.”

So said Rep. John Lewis, civil rights leader and this year’s recipient of the Preston Robert Tisch Award in Civic Leadership, during the awards ceremony in New York City on December 8th, 2014. Lewis talked with NPR’s Michel Martin about why racism still exists within American society, saying there is “a deliberate, almost systematic attempt to sweep the issue of race under the American rug.” However, Lewis expressed confidence in today’s youth to keep pushing for a post-racial society.

“I am so proud of the young people. They are black, they are white, they are Latino, they are Asian-American, they’re Native American. They all are out there, pushing and pulling the same way my generation did, more than 50 years ago.”

Lewis also emphasized the role that voting plays in ensuring progress is achieved. Voter turnout, especially among young people, has been incredibly low in recent years, and according to Lewis, the vote cannot be taken for granted. “The vote controls everything that we do in a democratic society from the time we are born to the time we leave this place,” he said. “And you have one obligation: to participate. You cannot be on the sidelines.”

Lewis understands the cynical reasons behind low voter participation, such as the view that the country’s leadership is unjust or corrupt. In response to the disillusionment, Lewis tells the audience, “It’s hard, it is difficult, but you must never ever become bitter or hostile. Never, ever hate, as Dr. King and others would say. Hate is too heavy a burden to bear…Be hopeful, be optimistic, and look to the future.”