Thursday, July 30, 2020

APA Mourns Loss of Rep. John Lewis, Praises Trailblazing Legacy

As civil rights leader and longtime congressman Rep. John Lewis is laid to rest today in Atlanta, APA released a statement honoring his memory and celebrating his lifelong work to end racial inequality.

“We are mourning the loss of a leader who meant so much to the Black community and to all Americans who strive for equity and justice,” said APA President Jeffrey Geller, M.D., M.P.H., in APA’s statement. “For more than a half century, Rep. John Lewis showed what walking the walk truly means in promoting civil rights, even putting his own life at risk in service of the cause. His lesson to us is to continue that work through speaking up, taking tangible actions, exhibiting humility, and practicing perseverance. In taking on racial discrimination, we will do well if we take to heart his words: ‘I believe race is too heavy a burden to carry into the 21st century. It's time to lay it down. We all came here in different ships, but now we're all in the same boat.’”

Lewis began advocating for racial equality when he was just a teenager. At 23, he was the youngest speaker at the March on Washington in 1963, at which the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., gave his iconic, “I Have a Dream,” speech. Lewis was also one of the original Freedom Riders, civil rights activists who rode buses between Southern states to challenge seating segregation.

In 1965, when Lewis was 25, he helped lead a march for voting rights across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala. Alabama state troopers met the marchers at the end of the bridge and charged them when they stopped to pray. Lewis’s skull was fractured during the incident that day, which has since been dubbed “Bloody Sunday.”

As a member of Congress, Lewis was dedicated to advancing racial and ethnic equality and supported policies that ensured struggling families had access to safety nets. Just this year he had introduced legislation aimed at supporting the health and well-being of current and former foster care youth transitioning into adulthood (HR 7591), as well as a bill that would ensure minority and medically underserved communities have access to public health interventions and medically necessary services during the COVID-19 pandemic (HR 7546).

“Rep. John Lewis was a selfless, constant advocate for civil rights for Black Americans and other underrepresented groups and a shining example for the rest of all of us,” said APA CEO and Medical Director Saul Levin, M.D., M.P.A., in APA’s statement. “Rep. Lewis continually made his voice heard and pushed for change to help millions of Americans, whether it was during the struggle for voting rights or in fierce advocacy for the Affordable Care Act. His memory serves as an inspiration to us at APA to continue his legacy and to strive for the ideals he believed in.”

Lewis also cosponsored the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act (HR 7120), which includes a wide variety of policies meant to increase accountability among law enforcement and end discriminatory policing practices. In a floor statement Lewis made in support of the legislation, he said that, in making the call for racial equity and equality, young people today are “taking up the mantle in a movement that I know all too well.

“For far too long, equal justice and protection under the law have been deferred dreams for Black people and communities of color across our country,” Lewis said in his floor statement. “[A] democracy cannot thrive where power remains unchecked and justice is reserved for a select few. Ignoring these cries and failing to respond to this movement is simply not an option. For peace cannot exist where justice is not served.”


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