By Madison Akers
For The Diamondback
Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) spoke Thursday to a crowd of more than 600 University of Maryland students and faculty, explaining everyone has a “role to play, and we must play them well” when it comes to racial issues in America.
Lewis, the former chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee during the civil rights movement, has been an active political leader for more than 40 years. Since advocating alongside Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1960s, he has continued to work on racial issues throughout the nation.
“I say to you as students, you must never, ever give up or give in,” Lewis said. “You must keep your eyes on the prize and work to redeem the soul of America and the plane.”
This university’s Office of Undergraduate Studies, along with the William L. Thomas Omicron Delta Kappa Lecture Series and the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, hosted the lecture, titled “Good Trouble.”
During the event, Lewis and Andrew Aydin discussed the context of their graphic novel, March: Book Three, the third in the award-winning trilogy illustrating Lewis’ involvement in the civil rights movement.
The graphic novel, written by co-authors Lewis and Aydin and illustrated by Nate Powell, is this university’s First Year Book, which is chosen annually and offered to all freshman students and faculty. The book serves to “immerse readers in the very real fight for equality,” said senior Jacob Veitch, a government and politics and international business major. Veitch also serves as the president of the Omicron Delta Kappa society.
Students and faculty filed into the Memorial Chapel to hear Lewis speak. University President Wallace Loh also attended the event, calling Lewis a “true American hero.”
“I haven’t been as moved and inspired as I am tonight,” Loh said. “I came here as an immigrant and at the age of 16. … The emotions that you brought forth tonight is that these freedoms and liberties that we have today are because you put your life on the line.”
During the lecture, Lewis spoke of his time as a child questioning America’s segregation. He encouraged students to stand up and “act as headlights, not taillights” when it comes to modern-day racial injustices, expressing his gratitude for key inspirations such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks, along with people of all backgrounds.
Students also had the opportunity to ask Lewis questions about current civil unrest and the policies of the Trump administration.
“People today are trying to take us back. We have come so far and made so much progress and too much to go back,” Lewis said. “I am very disappointed in the way things are going in America. The young people need to use the power of the ballot.”
Some students, like senior kinesiology major Cairan George, said they wanted Lewis to address the hate bias incidents on this campus.
“I’m hoping he’ll touch on the incidents that occurred on our campus as a whole and what students can do to start our own revolution and set examples for generations after us, especially considering it’s a movement still not over,” George said.
Freshman Sidney Richards echoed George’s sentiments, specifically citing the murder of 2nd Lt. Richard Collins in May.
“I find the lecture very important as a black person going here because I was hesitant choosing Maryland at first with the incident with Lt. Collins,” Richards said. “I still feel like it’s a relevant thing that needs to be talked about.”
Richards also said he read March: Book Three in his classes.
“I found it to be a good opportunity that was interval in the civil rights movement,” Richards said. “The movement was a big part of me growing up and something that my mom and dad had always talked to me about, and I find it great that a graphic novel — not necessarily a textbook — is out that describes the hard times.”
During the lecture, Aydin said the movement is “missing students,” but he added that he’s hopeful for the future.
“It’s changing, and I’ve seen more protests in the last few years than I ever have before,” he said. “But the students need to organize, and there’s never been a better time.”
In his closing remarks for the event, Loh said, “We may not have chosen the time, but the time has chose us.” He urged students and attendees to “keep the faith, be hopeful, organize politically and vote.”