“Lesson Learned From John Lewis”

Hello all. It’s Sunday, July 19, 2020. Hope you are enjoying the weekend. I got some things done, had a minute to practice some bass (much needed therapy!) and Lewis Hamilton won the F1 Grand Prix of Hungary. Lewis is a bad boy. Even if you have no interest whatsoever in racing, you should read up on him. Trust me, his story is fascinating. Now that it’s Sunday I have to get my mental game right for the work week. I still have time to practice and hopefully finish my song. Sunday dinner with the family, which means I “share” in the cooking duties. Ready to retire from that for sure. Did my time.

As I’m sure you’ve heard that this weekend marked the passing of John Lewis. John Lewis needs absolutely no introduction, justification nor affirmation from one Randy Savage. However, I’d like to share a story of when a college professor “schooled me” on John Lewis and SNCC.

When I was 18 years old (a long, long time ago in a galaxy far away…..) I applied for a job with the State of Maryland. I recall it being with the Department of Natural Resources working in a lab testing water samples. THE JOB DID NOT REQUIRE A COLLEGE DEGREE OF ANY LEVEL. Just keep that in mind. I met every qualification for science, labs and math. It did not list any requisite experience which was good because I didn’t have any! I arrived at the office and was introduced to the interviewer. Upon seeing me the interviewer literally gasped. She stared for maybe 3-4 seconds before extending her hand to “welcome” me. She looked over my resume, which was essentially my high school transcript, and began to ask questions to verbally verify what was already on the page. “So you took this class or that class, huh? Yes I did Miss. I answered politely, sensing that she was somewhat surprised. This went on for about 15 minutes. After looking over my “resume” one last time she says, “You have good qualifications but I was looking for a college student for this position.” I mentioned that the ad did not list college as a requirement. She fumbled through an excuse and I excused myself from her presence. The very next day that job was relisted with “College-Level Courses” listed as a requirement. Although I was disappointed and felt that I had just experienced my first taste of employment discrimination, I was young with higher aspirations. College was somewhere in my future and, more importantly, I was preparing to take over the bass spot in Parliament/Funkadelic from Bootsy Collins (a few years later I discovered that local bass hero Rodney “Skeet” Curtis had beaten me to it! Oh well…). So I tucked that incident away in my brain and vowed to use it as motivation.

Shortly after this happened I was fortunate enough to become an employee of Anne Arundel Community college. Early in my time there I was befriended and mentored by the “older” (I was 18, they were in there 30s) black employees and professors. One was a Professor of African American Studies though his name escapes me. One day during Black History Month we were discussing racism, bigotry and prejudice in America. He asked me if I had experienced any of these. I shared the story above and told him how “terrible” it was. How I felt slighted and and that I deserved better because I was a good person and represented America, and specifically Black America, in a positive way. “I grew up under privileged and sacrificed a lot to get where I was.” That’s what I told him. Man. He. Laughed. His. Ass. Off! He looked me straight in they eye and said, “Young brother, you think you have it all together, huh?” “You think you’re pretty smart?” “You been discriminated against right?” Then he laughed some more. I never responded. Then he asked me what I knew about Black History. I rattled off the obligatory and oft recited names and facts. He gave me a condescending nod of approval and then asked what I knew about the 60s Civil Rights Movement. As it turned out very little. Then, he asked what I knew about SNCC and the Freedom Rides. What? What was that? I was aware of some of the incidents, but was very vague with details. And then he asked, “YOU DON’T KNOW WHO JOHN LEWIS IS?” I never mentioned his name because I did not know who he was.

I ended up taking that Professor’s African American Studies class. He me gave materials to read, events to study and personal lessons to learn. Notably, he made me read about every act of brutality John Lewis endured in his pursuit of justice. Every act of selfless courage he displayed while serving quietly “behind the scenes” as he transitioned into politics. Every sacrifice he made as he willingly stood on the “front lines” so I wouldn’t have to. Lesson well learned Mr. Lewis. Thank you sir.

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