Statement from Olivia Golden on the Passing of Rep. John Lewis

The news this past weekend of the passing of Congressman John Lewis has left so many of us deeply saddened by the loss, struggling to think about what the nation will do without him, and reflecting on what he has taught us about how to go forward. For me, it was the honor of a lifetime to meet him personally several years ago, in advance of testifying before him in Congress about anti-poverty programs and the safety net. I had read his memoir, admired his extraordinary history, and thought of him as a larger-than-life figure and role model—and, like so many others who have shared these stories in the last few days, I was deeply moved by his modesty, warmth, and generosity in person.

From his extraordinary early years in the civil rights movement, against vicious racism, and the political, social, and moral injustices of the ‘60s—often viciously beaten and jailed more than 40 times—to his last public appearance when he visited Black Lives Matter Plaza in the District, he never wavered from a commitment to putting himself on the line for a better future for America.

He extended his passion to so many people and communities experiencing marginalization, elevating their voices through the way he used his own. At a hearing last May that focused on paid family and medical leave as a crucial step for workers and families of color, Congressman Lewis called on his colleagues to remember that “every family is different, but life happens to all of us. Our humanity calls us to help those we love.”

In 2018, he carried that same message to the floor of the House when he spoke out passionately against a Republican immigrant reform bill, calling it an “assault” on immigrant families and communities, urging his colleagues to respect the human rights and dignity of everyone, and warning that “the world is watching.”

Recently, Congressman Lewis joined President Obama on an intergenerational panel to talk about the mental toll racism takes on the lives of people of color. His words of support and encouragement exemplify his commitment to never giving up or giving in, “be bold, be brave, be courageous until we redeem the soul of America, and move closer to a community where no one would be left behind or left out because of race or color or nationality.”

Congressman John Lewis was a giant of moral authority. The world feels so much smaller without his great voice and presence. It is up to everyone left behind to fill that void, drawing on the inspiration of his life and his vision for change to redouble our own commitments to Black lives and to racial and economic justice.