William Blair Celebrates John Lewis Legacy of “Good Trouble”

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Cory Booker, John Lewis, Erika Alexander - Crucial Conversations
From left, Senator Cory Booker; Representative John Lewis receiving the Medal of Freedom from President Obama; Erika Alexander, executive producer of John Lewis: Good Trouble

Among U.S. civil rights icons lives lost in 2020 no one was more influential than long-time Georgia Congressman John Lewis.

Lewis marched shoulder to shoulder with Martin Luther King in the 1960s. He led the historic protest march at Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama on March 7, 1965, when he and his followers were beaten by police in events televised nationally. That bloody violence elevated the civil rights struggle to the central stage.

An apostle of non-violence like his mentor King, his activism was long seen as central to the push that resulted in landmark voting rights and civil rights laws in 1965. In his 30 years as a U.S. representative he became known as “the Conscience of Congress.” Until his death from cancer in July he never stopped his fight for equal rights, leading protests over racial injustice.

“His determination and sacrifice were astounding,” Erika Alexander, executive producer of the documentary John Lewis: Good Trouble, told William Blair employees during a virtual conversation on September 17 about Lewis, race and social injustice in America.

Lewis was arrested 45 times during his life, including five times as a Congressman, for non-violent protests—what he often described as making “good trouble.”

Firm-wide conversations focusing on social injustice

The digital event was the third firm-wide conversation William Blair has hosted about race and social injustice this summer. They have been tied to deep concerns among employees about their communities and a commitment to make sustained change.

Alexander said Lewis provided an amazing blueprint of how the country can move forward. He was among the original Freedom Fighters, a racially mixed group of young men and women, who in the early 1960s challenged century-old Jim Crow laws and customs that enforced segregation in the South.

“They pulled off a long year of nonviolent battle inside a hostile environment—and they won. They did it without firing a shot. They achieved more through nonviolent tactics and methods than the most violent weaponized war ever could,” Alexander said.

She challenged William Blair employees to continue his work and encourage others to do the same, echoing the famous saying of John Lewis: when you see something wrong, say something.

“I learned the power of one man being very much on message,” said Alexander, recalling one of her biggest lessons in working with Lewis filming the documentary.

Reflections about Lewis from Senator Booker

The event also included an interview with New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, who is featured in the documentary describing what it was like to work alongside Lewis in Congress.

One of Booker’s favorite memories of Lewis occurred during the healthcare debate in 2017. He had walked over to the U.S. capitol and started a Facebook live chat on the steps with Lewis. Both men were just sitting there talking live about healthcare and soon a photographer came, then there were two more people, then 15, then hundreds of people who came to sit at the feet of John Lewis.

“It was one of those moments when you see the moral gravity of his spirit and how he could attract people,” Booker said.

Booker noted Lewis’s final fight was to restore a key provision to the Voting Rights Act after the Supreme Court ruling in 2013 in the Shelby County v. Holder case out of Alabama, which canceled the requirement since 1965 of certain states and local governments to obtain federal preclearance before implementing changes to their voting laws and practices.

“There is now a John Lewis Voting Rights Act to restore that preclearance but also to do other things to expand the franchise in our country,” said Booker noting that many states had once more adopted more restrictive voting laws in Shelby’s wake.

Lewis often said: “The vote is precious. It is almost sacred. It is the most powerful non-violent tool we have in democracy.”

Alexander told the gathering that those seeking social justice must keep up the fight but remember they are not alone. She said that on the final night that John Lewis lay lying in state at the U.S. Capital a double rainbow appeared above the building.

“That is a symbol of hope,” Alexander said. “That’s who he was.”

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