Keynote Speaker Rev. Dr. William Barber II face emanates neon purple rays against a background of dark blue with dark teal concentric pentagonal shapes that subtly meet one another to create a cohesive pattern as they radiate out in to space. Race Forward Presents Facing Race: A National Conference.

The country lost one of its largest civil rights figures this past Friday (July 17) when longtime public servant Rep. John Robert Lewis (D-Ga.) lost his battle with pancreatic cancer at age 80, news outlets like CNN and the New York Times reported.

11Alive shared part of the family’s public statement below:

It is with inconsolable grief and enduring sadness that we announce the passing of U.S. Rep. John Lewis.  He was honored and respected as the conscience of the US Congress and an icon of American history, but we knew him as a loving father and brother. He was a stalwart champion in the on-going struggle to demand respect for the dignity and worth of every human being. He dedicated his entire life to non-violent activism and was an outspoken advocate in the struggle for equal justice in America. He will be deeply missed.

The crater that Lewis’ absence has created is immense, as the activist, who was born to sharecroppers on February 21,1940, in Alabama, knew firsthand what it took to fight for freedom. His bio is nothing short of legendary work. As a college student, Lewis would organize protests at segregated lunch counters in Nashville. In 1961, he participated in Freedom Rides. From 1963 to 1966, Lewis chaired the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). When “Bloody Sunday” made national headlines—more than 600 peaceful protestors were brutally beaten on March 7, 1965 for trying to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama to demand voting rights for Black people—Lewis was on the frontlines. His activism remained firm for decades, even 54 years after the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was signed into law.

“In the days when leaders fail us, when the work of many in government is division and separation, and when corporations are only interested in the cost of widgets above the value of human life, the onus falls on each and every one of us to do what is right, what is fair and what is just,” Lewis had said in a press release last year to mark the bill’s anniversary. 

From receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor in 2011, to the brand new documentary on his life, “John Lewis: Good Trouble,” streaming on demand now, Lewis’ legacy and life’s work feels even more important now. In recognition of his sacrifices, the NAACP announced a Virtual March on Washington today, via an emailed press release, to take place on August 28, the 57th anniversary of the historic march.

“With the heartbreaking passing of civil rights titan John Lewis, good-willed people all across this country can participate in this march to honor his life and legacy and commit to pursuing a bold Black agenda that advances the unfulfilled promise of our democracy,” said NAACP president Derrick Johnson. “We must consider the lives we are attempting to forge for our families and communities. We must act in our best interest to knock down the walls of injustice and grant future generations access to higher social, economic, and political power. This is what the 2020 Virtual March on Washington is all about.”

Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, national NAACP chair of the Legislative Political Action Committee and president of Repairers of the Breach, published an op-ed in The Nation yesterday (July 19) that put all politicians on notice for how to correctly honor the giant’s legacy, writing: 

If anyone in Congress really wants to honor the memory of John Lewis, they should put together an omnibus bill that brings together his legislative priorities for the past several years: the expansion of voter protections, living wages, universal health care, immigrant justice, and commonsense gun reform. These are the concrete steps toward a more perfect union that Lewis championed, even as he constantly reminded us of the sacrifice it had taken to overcome Jim Crow in the movement that gave rise to a Second Reconstruction in this nation. For politicians who opposed his work to honor Lewis now is a greater insult than those honestly hurled at him by the segregationists of Alabama and Tennessee in his youth.

To hear from Lewis on how he was inspired by Martin Luther King, Jr., who literally responded to his 17-year-old query about movement, watch the video below from 2018, courtesy of WUSA9: