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Congressman John Lewis Needs No Defense, But…

On Thursday February 11th, 2016, the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) chose to endorse former Secretary of State and presidential hopeful, Hillary Clinton over Senator and presidential hopeful, Bernie Sanders. Congressman John Lewis, born of February 21st, 1940 in Troy Alabama, has chosen to support her as well.

That is his right.

No sooner than the endorsement of Hillary Clinton had come from the ranks of the CBC did the “innanet” start buzzing. When Congressman Lewis was asked about Senator Sanders’ involvement in the Civil Rights Movement from a reporter in the audience, Congressman Lewis had this to say:

“I never saw him, I never met him. I was chair of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee for three years — 1963 to 1966,” he said. “I was involved in the sit-ins, the freedom rides, the March on Washington, the march from Selma to Montgomery. I directed the board of education project for six years. I met Hillary Clinton. I met President Clinton.”

That was Congressman Lewis’ recollection of Senator Sanders’ involvement and not an indictment on Sanders’ character.  How can it be?  Congressman Lewis could not possibly have seen all of the foot soldiers at work in a movement as vast as the Civil Rights Movement.

Congressman Lewis should never be called an “Uncle Tom” or a “sellout” for choosing not

John Lewis and I!

Congressman John Lewis and I!

to endorse Senator Bernie Sanders.  At nearly seventy-five years old (75!), he has walked among the malignant and the uncouth, and the compassionate and the loving; and, he is still on the front lines trying to make America a better place.  Despite his platform and visibility, he is still only one self-determined voter using his one vote to cast his one ballot for his one chance to say who he believes should be the next president of these United States of America. The only basis he has for making his decision is what each of us has—the candidate’s record to help align logic and rationale to our selection, and a compelling gut-feeling or intuition we may have with the candidate. Congressman Lewis knows no more than any of the rest of us about how Secretary Clinton will perform as president than the Bernie Sanders supporters know about how he will perform. We all only have their promises. Clinton and Sanders are both politicians vying for a coveted seat, in a powerful position and a particular place in America’s history.

We can disagree strongly in the political arena, but how dare any of us resort to demeaning another person for his or her right to choose the candidate of his or her choice?

I believe vehemently in my right to participate in the democratic process and I vote. I don’t always chose the winning candidate, but I always elect my choice.  On all levels of government, none of the candidates I have selected or any of those who have run since I became a voter have ever made my issues as a Black person living in America, a priority; rather, my issues have always been masked as part and parcel of sub groups and their issues.  These subgroups and their issues continue to be met before pertinent and relevant Black agenda issue items are even discussed…none of us know how different either of these candidates, Sanders or Clinton, will be once they get into  office,  but our uncertainty at their job performance should not have to come at the expense of the Congressman Lewis’s reputation, integrity, recollection, and his humanity.

Update: Congressman Lewis has since issued the following statement regarding his remarks about Senator Bernie Sanders, on February 13th, 2016:

“I was responding to a reporter’s question who asked me to assess Sen. Sanders’ civil rights record. I said that when I was leading and was at the center of pivotal actions within the Civil Rights Movement, I did not meet Sen. Bernie Sanders at any time. The fact that I did not meet him in the movement does not mean I doubted that Sen. Sanders participated in the Civil Rights Movement, neither was I attempting to disparage his activism. Thousands sacrificed in the 1960s whose names we will never know, and I have always given honor to their contribution.”

Dr. Dorothy Irene Height: A Shining Beacon of the Human Spirit

“I came up at a time when young women wore hats, and they wore gloves. Too many people in my generation fought for the right for us to be dressed up and not put down.” Dr. Dorothy Height as told to the Washington Post in 2010

Dr. Height2Ever so often the world receives a present from the grace of the Almighty. Sometimes it is the way nature graces us with sunshine or a cool breeze and cool waters or luminous moon light to guide our darkest nights. Other times it is the way the human spirit manifests itself as kind deeds, motivating words, and triumphant examples of perseverance, activism and above all else, love.

Today on what would have been her 102 birthday, we celebrate Dr. Dorothy Irene Height, a towering figure of civil rights and a pristine example of the aforementioned human spirit. Growing up, I have always been told that words and names define people. Dr. Height’s last name is a testament to why she was able to surpass even her wildest dreams and bring out the best in people, the movement and the human spirit. And because of this lesson, I have never believed in the “Sticks and Stones” adage.

Today I write about Dr. Height because our lives have paralleled in phenomenal ways that have encouraged me to beZakBlue and do better with non-coincidences, but events of fate and favor that have been bestowed onto my life. Like me, Dr. Height was born in Virginia–she was born in Richmond and I was born in Norfolk. She was a Southern woman who believed in being “put together” so when she stepped out into the public’s eye, it was always under the cloak of a hat and the skin of her gloves. My grandmother, Mary Peoples, certainly taught me those lessons.

Also like me, Dr. Height received an Elks scholarship to assist her in attending college. She and I came to New York City as young women; in her case she pursued an education during the Depression Era in America and in my case I came as the educator in America’s age of Terrorism. Furthermore, we both began our career paths in our 20s–she was 25 and I was 24.

Left to right, Morris Dosewell, American Labor Council; Dorothy Height, National Committee Negro Women; Alexander Allen, Urban League; Basil Paterson, NAACP and Bayard Rustin, director of the Philips Randolph Institute walk together after a meeting with Mayor Wagner in New York on June 4, 1965 file photo.

Left to right, Morris Dosewell, American Labor Council; Dorothy Height, National Committee Negro Women; Alexander Allen, Urban League; Basil Paterson, NAACP and Bayard Rustin, director of the Philips Randolph Institute walk together after a meeting with Mayor Wagner in New York on June 4, 1965 file photo.

From studying her life for the greater sum of my life, I have learned that she, like me, had an unyielding love and desire to see African Americans and women succeed; and, this was evident in her work with the Civil Rights Movement. Moreover, it was also present in other avenues of her impeccable life. We both used education, activism, and joined service-oriented organizations like the National Council of Negro Women (NCWM) and our sororities which we have used as our vehicles to effect change in our communities near and far. Dr. Height joined the Centennial ladies of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated, of which she served as its national president from 1946-1957, and I joined the nonagenarian ladies of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Incorporated, of which I served as the president of the chapter in which I was inducted, Phi Chapter of Virginia State University. For forty years, Dr. Height served as the President of the National Council of Negro Women, an organization founded by the esteemed educator, Mrs. Mary McLeod Bethune to “represent the national and international concerns of Black women (ncnw.org).” Adding to our connection, the former Executive Director of the National Council of Negro Women was Dr. Avis Jones-DeWeever, a graduate of my Alma Mater, Virginia State University and my beloved department of Political Science.

Although I was never blessed with the favor of physically meeting Dr. Dorothy Height, a shining beacon of the human spirit, our paths will always be connected.