Civil Rights Hero Speaks At Mason

Jeremy Uniszkiewicz/Fourth Estate

Congressman John Lewis shares message of inspiration, hope and urgency


The last living speaker from the March on Washington, Rep. John Lewis, was one of the 13 original Freedom Riders in the 1960s and is now congressman for Georgia’s 5th district. Lewis visited Mason on Oct. 11 and conveyed messages of inspiration, hope and urgency to the audience of students, faculty members, local journalists and other community members. Lewis and co-author Andrew Aydin also spoke about their graphic novel trilogy, March.

“The messages given by the book and [John Lewis’] experience [are] topical and a neat example of the positive effects of student voice,” said Rick Gray, co-director of the event.

He explained that over 4,000 copies of Lewis and Aydin’s graphic novels were given to new Mason students during orientation events. Additionally, several Mason staff members decided to use the first novel, March: Book One, for their curriculum this semester.  

The topic of student voice was a prominent aspect of Lewis’ speech, in which he stressed the importance of young people using their voice for good. He said that one positive use of their voices would be by voting in all elections and to participate in civil, nonviolent discourse.

Lewis questioned, “Why can’t we inspire and be part of a non-violent revolution again, considering that we’ve made too much progress to be going back?”

Sohila Hassan, a freshman at Mason and social activist, stated that the primary message she grasped from Lewis’ speech was persistence. “Sometimes you need to raise your voice and not let hatred silence that voice,” Hassan said. Hassan stated that she has hosted and led various gun reform walk-outs and LGBTQ+ community marches.

The audience frequently erupted in applauses and occasional standing ovations. This was also the case for Lewis’ former press secretary, current digital director and policy advisor, and March co-author, Andrew Aydin.

“Imagine instilling social consciousness [in] our children today—that’s your job now,” said Aydin.

Younger students also attended Lewis’ speech. Lauren, a girl from the Fairfax area, came with her grandmother. They had read March together. Lauren commented that Lewis’ speech was “inspiring.”

Inspiration and admiration seemed to be felt among all audience members, especially by Mason art professor Chawky Frenn. The professor brought a self-made painting to give personally to Lewis, one of his heroes.

“He challenges me to not give up hope,” Frenn said. “[The] struggles of the Civil Rights movement are not history but a perpetual march to the top of the mountain.”

Each audience member seemed to to be moved by both men’s words. Their messages were applicable to every gender, race and age groupand were exemplified by one of Lewis’ closing statements.

“We are all in the same boat,” Lewis said with a calming, absolute certainty. “It doesn’t matter your race. We are one people. One family. One house.”