Leslie Marshall: To honor John Lewis, we should take his advice and follow his actions

In his op-ed for the New York Times, Congressman Lewis seems to be passing the torch on to the next generation.

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John Lewis, the late Democratic Congressman from Georgia and civil rights leader, authored a letter shortly before he died which was published as a column in the New York Times on the day of his funeral.

In his op-ed, Congressman Lewis seems to be passing the torch on to the next generation stating: “While my time here has now come to an end, I want you to know that in the last days and hours of my life you inspired me. You filled me with hope about the next chapter of the great American story when you used your power to make a difference in our society."

Lewis also shared that he has been inspired by the protests he saw taking place throughout our country over racial injustice and police brutality. And John Lewis certainly knew about both.


Congressman Lewis spoke of making a difference, and that he did. He spoke of being inspired. Congressman Lewis was an inspiration to me, and I’ll tell you why.

My father was a jazz musician and the only White member of an all-Black jazz band in the French Quarter of New Orleans back in the day. It was there he met and fell in love with their lead singer, a Black woman who he wanted to marry; but sadly her life was cut short by two drunk White boys looking for trouble. They ran her over with their car. And in pre-civil rights America, the murder was deemed an accident.

My father moved back north and met my mom. Continuing to work as a jazz musician, his best friend was an African American who was married to a White woman. My parents were big fans of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and marched for civil rights. I was taught at a very early age that love sees no color, but I also learned at an early age that hatred sadly does.

A new neighbor, who had moved from South Carolina to the town outside of Boston where I grew up, threw a rock at me one day and called me an N-word lover. I had never heard the word. I ran in the house shaken and asked my mother what the N-word meant. She took me to the sink and literally washed my mouth out with soap. I knew then and there it was a bad word.

My father later explained what it meant. I was as shocked then at age nine as I am now a grown woman that anyone could hate anyone else simply based on the color of their skin.

A few years later, my dad and I were watching TV. By then, I had been exposed to and learned about great leaders such as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and others. I was 12 years old, and my dad casually asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I responded, “I want to make a difference.”

My dad asked, "How can one person make a difference, Leslie?" I reminded my dad of Moses, Gandhi and of course MLK. I told him I wanted to make a difference and "be the change you want to see in the world." And that is still a goal of mine.

My mother had always taught me to pick your mountain to die on and never be silent when you see an injustice. Congressman John Lewis was that type of person, and he inspired me.

As a young man, John Lewis wanted to attend an all-White college. He had written Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. about his desire. MLK sent him a bus ticket, and when John walked in the door, Dr. King said, "You must be the boy from Troy."

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Lewis conveyed his desires not only to attend the all-White college but also for full integration and equal opportunities, like education for all regardless of skin color. Dr. King warned John Lewis that he might be beaten, have his family threatened or harmed and his home burned down or bombed (all of which happened to Dr. King); was he willing to still move forward? John Lewis said yes.

Lewis exemplified that willingness during the march from Selma to Montgomery when standing face to face with law enforcement armed with guns and bats, he walked toward them, peacefully, knowing that he might not come out alive.

As he walked over the Edmund Pettus Bridge, he became one of the many victims on Bloody Sunday when he was beaten so badly he suffered a skull fracture.

Years later, when a congressman, Lewis, against the wishes of many in his community, fought for the rights for the LGBTQ because he knew an injustice when he saw it and could not remain silent.

Last year when I was in Washington, D.C., to do a panel on Fox News, I saw Congressman Lewis in the supermarket. I ran over to him and asked his assistant if I might approach. He said yes.


I asked the congressman if I could hug him or shake his hand. He smiled and said of course I could hug him. I told him he inspired me to fight against injustice, pick my battles (mountains) and be willing to do anything to achieve my goal. And I thanked him for all he had done not only for the Black community but for me as well.

Although I live in Los Angeles, a city filled with celebrities and rock stars, I had just seen my rock star — Congressman Lewis.

Congressman John Lewis picked his mountain and was willing to die on it. He knew the difference between right and wrong.


He stood separate from his community and his party if he saw an injustice. He knew that love and peace, not hate and violence are the right way to achieve the right outcome.

I hope those who want to honor his memory will follow not only his advice but his actions. And I know when I look up in the night sky, one of those bright shining stars was once a boy from Troy.