Growing up as a Black girl in metro-Atlanta, with downtown Atlanta at my fingertips was so special. This “Black mecca” inspired me to dream bigger than many of my peers growing up in other cities throughout the country. There were Black electrical engineers (like my dad), doctors, entrepreneurs, architects, politicians, and more all around me. I remember when our next-door neighbors, one of whom was a prominent Black lawyer, had a dinner party and Johnnie Cochran was there — casual. This was only a few years after he became a household name during the biggest trial of the decade, where he famously uttered, “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit.” Black history makers always found their way to Atlanta.
Riding down streets named after civil rights activists whose lives had directly impacted the Atlanta that I was fortunate enough to grow up in, such as Andrew Young International Boulevard, Donald Lee Hollowell Parkway, Ralph David Abernathy Boulevard, Xernona Clayton Way — what a privilege. All of those moments informed who I am today, but the man who Freedom Parkway is now named after has been the force that lifts me up every time our country has left me heartbroken and knocked me off my feet.
No, I never had the pleasure of meeting Congressman John Lewis, but I — like so many others — felt so deeply connected to him. I’d seen the photos of him leading the march across the bridge in Selma and getting hit in the head before ending up in the hospital with a fractured skull. I’d seen images of him speaking at the March on Washington. I’d seen images of President Lyndon B. Johnson handing him the pen used to sign the Voting Rights Act.
I had also seen images of him with our country’s first Black president.
He’s one of those rare figures in history who lived long enough to see the positive results of his actions. Unfortunately, he also had to see his life’s work come under attack with the dismantling of the Voting Rights Act over the last several years. I think that’s what hurt the most. That he fought until his last breath, and that this country created the circumstances that forced him to fight his entire life. For that, our nation should be so deeply ashamed. Nonetheless, because of that — because of John Lewis — I know that the fight is worth it, and that the courage to carry on and push our country to become the “land of the free” it claims to be, lives in me too.
Lewis’s legacy will live on through my work in so many ways, but perhaps the most significant will be my willingness to keep going. I can’t help but wonder if and when there will be a generation of Black folks who aren’t burdened with this fight for equality. All I know is that John Lewis has passed us the torch, and I’m prepared to honor his life by continuing to march on.