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News | July 11, 2016

Congressman John Lewis: We are all people

By DIA Public Affairs

“I got in good trouble, necessary trouble,” said the Honorable John Lewis during his address to the DIA workforce on July 5. Joined by DIA Director LtGen Vincent Stewart, Congressman Lewis spoke about his American story, defying civil injustices and working towards diversity and inclusion, during the final event of DIA’s inaugural E Pluribus Unum week.

From Selma to Montgomery to the halls of Congress, Lewis has carried his civil rights legacy. At his visit to DIA Headquarters, he reflected on the need to come together to overcome obstacles and strengthen the United States.

“We are all people,” Lewis said. “We are one family; we all live in the same house…it is better to love than to hate; it is better to be loved than divided.”
Born Feb. 21, 1940, into a modest family of sharecroppers, Lewis grew up in a segregated America. Under Jim Crow, a young Lewis became inspired by the actions of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and protests such as the Montgomery Bus Boycott, eventually joining the civil rights movement in the early 1960’s.

Lewis’ participation in many peaceful protests, including the 1961 freedom rides, which challenged the segregation within the bus lines in the South, led him to risk his life for his beliefs on many occasions, none of which did so more than the March 7, 1965, event known as “bloody Sunday.” On that day a young Lewis, along with other activists and more than 600 participants, marched across Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. They were faced with an opposing force of Alabama state troopers waiting for them at the end of Pettus Bridge. Unwilling to disperse their peaceful march, the protesters were showered with tear gas, and the troopers charged with nightsticks and riot gear. During the chaos Lewis received a skull fracture and many others were severely injured.

The violence portrayed in photos and news reels across America only spurred the civil rights cause further. As the years passed Lewis became an integral part of the civil rights movement throughout the 1960’s. It was in the 80’s, however, that his political career took him to the Atlanta city council. From there, he worked his way up to a congressional seat in Georgia’s Fifth District and worked as a member of the House and Chief Deputy Whip for the Democratic Party.  President Barack Obama recognized him with the Medal of Freedom, and he also received the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award for lifetime achievement and the Martin Luther King Jr. Non-Violent Peace Prize.

Lewis has lived by example and asked the workforce to do the same. “If we get it right here, in America, maybe, just maybe we can be the model for the rest of the world,” Lewis said. Furthering his hope to set the example, he made it a point to mention the strength of diversity within an organization, suggesting the intelligence community must be representative of the America it serves.

Lewis thanked the workforce for “redeeming the soul of America,” ending his address by asking for perseverance in the everyday: “don’t give up,” Lewis said.