Sonia Delgadillo: Young people carrying the torch of Rep. John Lewis
It has been several days since Congressman John Lewis died. I have spent some time since then reading about his extraordinary life, reflecting, and yes, I’ll admit it, posting on social media.
“True American Hero” seems like an overused accolade, but in his case, I believe it does not do him justice.
John Lewis was arrested for the first time in February 1960 when he and other students demanded service at whites-only lunch counters in Nashville. In 1961, he joined a Freedom Ride where he and others were beaten when they tried to enter a whites-only waiting room at a bus station in South Carolina. Lewis served as the chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee from 1963 to 1966 and was one of the leaders who organized the 1963 March on Washington.
On March 7, 1965, he led a march across Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama to demonstrate for voting rights, and was infamously beaten and had his skull cracked by state troopers. These brave actions were only the beginning of a long and storied career fighting for justice.
Besides my sorrow for his family, I felt a great loss for our country. There are few people who sacrifice so much in every way for the freedom and justice of others — not just for a moment, a few weeks, or even a few years. His commitment to freedom and justice was unparalleled. I lamented, “Where are our heroes today?”
But then I remembered that John Lewis was only 23 when he spoke alongside Martin Luther King Jr. in Washington, D.C. In our country today, that are millions of 20-somethings standing up for justice, marching, and organizing.
It’s not just in Washington, D.C, Chicago, or Los Angeles, where change is happening. In our own community, young people are standing up. They have ideas and are taking those ideas to the streets. Recently, Ana Mendez Mora, an Nevada Union High School graduate and current Sierra College student, has led demonstrations for racial justice.
Michael J. Sekerak, a 2013 NU graduate, shared that it wasn’t until he left Nevada County that he realized how much he didn’t know about important issues of America’s history of race and racism. Similar thoughts have been echoed by our young people for many years. Not long ago several young men from Nevada County who had previously posted racist and anti-Semitic pictures on social media publicly apologized for their actions. One of the young men admitted “he didn’t have a good understanding of racism growing up.”
Sekerak is taking action to address this issue. He, along with some of his friends and peers, has developed an action-oriented petition to bring about change in Nevada Joint Union High School District. This call to action states in part, “We urge NJUHSD to implement policy changes to become intentionally anti-racist and inclusive of the many diverse communities who make up our past, present, and future in all aspects of this county’s educational infrastructure.”
More than 800 have signed this petition, primarily NJUHSD alumni from as far back as the 1970s, but the majority appear to be from the past 10 years. They have gone off to college or started careers in vastly more complex and diverse communities than they grew up in. They see their community, country, and world and recognize a need for change and justice. These NJUHSD grads know better than anyone the education they received and what is needed. It is heartening that they care about their hometown schools and want to make them better for future students.
Sekerak and his fellow NJUHSD alum are living up to John Lewis’s admonition, “When you see something that is not right, not just, not fair, you have a moral obligation to say something.”
When the NJUHSD implements these recommendations, our future graduates will know who John Lewis was because he was an important part of our history — American history.
My fellow boomers, we can learn something from these young people.
Sonia Delgadillo lives in Grass Valley.
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