How can you not love John Lewis. The 74-year-old Georgia congressman and civil rights hero radiates hope and optimism. How he does it in a calcified Congress where there are daily reminders that, for all the progress the movement brought, obstacles remain and even grow.
A big crowd — 300 or more I’d say — went to the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center to hear Lewis on an Arkansas Literary Festival panel with collaborators on his graphic novel, “March: Book One,” about his life. They were North Little Rock native Nate Powell, the acclaimed illustrator, and Andrew Aydin, a Lewis staff member who co-wrote the book.
Leslie Peacock and Brian Chilson were on hand so there may be more coverage to come. I was just happy to soak it up. A second volume in a three-volume series of “March” is coming in January. The book is being made required reading at universities around the country. It’s been distributed in a free digital form and there’s talk of a movie or other graphic presentation. It wasn’t conceived as a financial windfall, but as a sincere effort to put the message of non-violence and useful protest into wider circulation. If it appears it will also mean financial rewards for John Lewis,great. Iit couldn’t happen to a nicer guy. The almost palpable reverence for Lewis on the part of his collaborators was striking. He is, said Powell, the real article. Powell has worked on the project for 10 years.
Retired Judge Olly Neal, no small figure himself in the Arkansas civil rights movement, moderated.
Lewis message: Keep witnessing. Keep making noise. Peacefully. He believes, for example, there’s ample movement among the people for comprehensive immigration reform to bring millions of American residents out of the “shadows.” The problem? Elected officials. He didn’t lay partisan blame, though he could have. Sen. Mark Pryor was on hand and Lewis praised him effusively.