Good Trouble: Let the “Lewis-ing” Begin

Mar 10, 2022 12:00 AM

As I watched Rep John R. Lewis’ body leave the Capitol grounds on his final journey home, I was filled with mixed emotions.  Sadness that our great civil rights leaders are leaving us, though to receive their just reward for all of their courageous work.  Abandonment, as I have no inkling of a notion as to how the mission of creating an America where kind, respectful, aware, and engaged global citizens are valued, may ever be completed.  And disappointment that so many who embodied the legacy of civil rights have passed under the cruel and damning watch, all but extinguishing the fire of hope their work created.  As I watched the fanfare of that final journey, it struck me that the body was gone, but what he did, how he did it, and why it had to be done was left for us to actualize in our work, for our cause, to our country.  So, I propose that we take his name, Lewis, and make it our activator.  As he marched to the tune, “we shall overcome” in a quest for change, we can tweet, rally, demonstrate and, yes, march to the decree “we shall Lewis.”  His life was a life in constant action; hence, I have taken the liberty of creating the verb – TO “LEWIS”.

“Lewis-ing” would have been appropriate the evening I found myself in a medical episode in a Burger King parking lot.  Having taken medication that should have been accompanied by food, police officers assessed my situation with bias and racism as a backdrop, handcuffing me.  After telling them why I may have been incoherent and offering my money to purchase food so that I could attain some chemical balance, I was treated as a common drunk and taken to jail. How could I have “Lewis-ed” the situation instead of entering the jail angry, frustrated, and afraid?  No food, no consideration, just “a drunk Black woman driving a very expensive car” – the officer’s words, not mine. While Dylann Roof, apprehended after slaughtering eight black church members, gets a Burger King meal paid for out of the officer’s pocket.

 As I watched the motorcade leading John Lewis’ body to the services honoring his life, I remembered the fear associated with knowing my son was driving home from school and should have been home, but the driveway was empty.  I know he was tired and reminded him to pull onto the side of the road if he felt sleepy.  When he finally arrived home, I could see the trauma in his eyes and feel the anger in his heart.  Yet, all I could think of was that he was not at the bottom of a river tied to a fan, or hanging from a tree in someone’s backwoods, or lifeless under some officer’s knee, calling for me with his last breath.  That, as traumatic as it was, it was all right because all they did was bang on his window, pull him out of the car, handcuff him, put him on the ground, ransack the car, and ask him over and over, as if the repetition of the questions would somehow conjure a different truth, where he got his nice car and where are the drugs.  My soul ached with the humiliation, but my heart cried out, thank you, Lord, at least they didn’t kill him…this time.  In times like these, how do we teach our sons to “Lewis ?”

I firmly believe that if you are Black and over 50, you have a similar story – probably more than one or two.  However, in light of recent events, it’s time that we get past the story-telling and into the action plan on how and when to “Lewis.”  If we have learned nothing else in the last 50 years, it’s that neither justice nor equity will ever be given without a struggle or sacrifice.  If it is to be, indeed, be, for all people, it will have to be taken.  Now the work “taken” will unsettle some folks because the connotation is negative – that someone has to give up something unwillingly and even forcefully.  In a society such as ours, the distribution of power and money will always be unbalanced.  But if the access to that power and wealth is equitably distributed, there still may be justice.  It is that access that must be “Lewis-ed” from those that hold it in disproportionate amounts.  I am referencing “Lewis-ed” in the sense of taking a chance, being unafraid, and going for it.  We are done waiting; we are done towing the party line…we are tired!

As I sit here in my office at Frostburg State University surrounded by degrees, awards, and accolades – as the Dean of Education, responsible for the training of many of those charged with teaching our youth, I realize that I am empowered to be a catalyst for change that can have an enduring ripple effect.  Through the policies I initiate, the practices I support, and the programs I bring, I can be a force that molds the minds of those who will mold minds.  It is in this moment that I know I must be careful, honest, genuine, open, and willing to learn just as much if not more than I teach.  I must Lewis!  The work of my entire career has prepared me for this place in time, and I will not let those who molded me, mentored me, poured into me, honored me, and educated me, ever question if their good works were in vain.  I respectfully ask that each and every person who is absorbing this do the same.  It is time for us to “LEWIS.”  John R. Lewis is one of the best of examples of how to live a life that is true to its mission – the mission that we all should have – the manifestation of the words that ALL men are created equal, that they are treated as such under the laws and tenants of this country, and the eradication of systems manipulated based on race and privilege.

For me to “Lewis” is to be kind, respectful, and honest; not shy away from hard conversations; listen to understand, not to respond; have and show empathy; do my research for knowledge is power, and always be prepared because I never know when an opportunity to enlighten will present itself; face my fears head-on; speak my peace even when I think no one is listening; to use all available platforms to champion the cause of social justice and the elimination of system racism; and to do all these things not for accolades or self-promotion, but for the betterment of my community and the world.  If each one of us who “Lewis’, ” teaches one to “Lewis,” we will have an army of equity champions – each with their own ripple effect.  Will this take time, yes, but we all have our own “good trouble” to get into, and this is mine

None of us can ever be John B. Lewis, but if our hearts and minds are clear in our commitment to seek justice through fair and respectful dialogues where all voices are heard and appreciated, we can, at least, “Lewis.”

My door, mind, and heart will remain open; so, let the “Lewis-ing” begin.


Dr. Boyce C. Williams
Dean, College of Education
Frostburg State University
Copyright © 2020 Boyce C. Williams