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By Ravi Ponangi

Atlanta, GA: Congressman John Lewis, a Democrat who served as the US representative for Georgia's 5th Congressional District for more than three decades (January 3, 1987 – July 17, 2020), passed away on Friday, July 17 at the age of 80.

John Lewis, through non-violent sit-ins, protests and demonstrations, helped to shape a generation of Americans who sought to transform a political reality long based on racial segregation, poverty and violence.

I met Congressman John Lewis several times and had long conversations on many occasions. He was very attentive and good listener. Indian Professionals Network (IPN) was a partner in his yearly signature event “multicultural festival of Atlanta” that was organized by the Congressman John Lewis. Along with Late Dr. Nasi, we ensured Indian community was part of the “multicultural festival of Atlanta” and presented many performances with the help Indian community in Atlanta year after year. To my question, why he is hosting “multicultural festival of Atlanta” every year. He said “one of the best ways to understand our neighbors is through people-to-people exchanges.  Every year, I host a multicultural festival in Atlanta to highlight our diversity, explore our similarities, and celebrate our differences.” Congressman John Lewis is a great friend of the Indian American community in Atlanta and also a recipient of the Gandhi Peace prize from the Gandhi Foundation of USA. A firm believer in non-violence, Lewis has worked tirelessly for the cause of social justice and played a key role in the Civil Rights Movement and has dedicated his life in building what he calls ‘Beloved Community’. He is well known and respected for his dedication to the highest ethical and moral principles. Lewis was an “outspoken advocate” for equal justice and dedicated his life to non-violent activism. He received many honorary degrees and awards, including the the nation's highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011.

Years back in one of his addresses to Indian community, Congressman Lewis recounted humiliating segregation experiences when growing up in Tennessee, while in schools, in sit-ins at segregated lunch counters, while participating in Freedom Rides, and of beatings, arrests and jail by police during marches for justice and racial equality.

As he got involved with the Civil Rights Movement in America, John Lewis was influenced by Gandhi’s use of non-violent methods that he was employing to oppose the rule of the British Empire in India.
In 2009, Congressman John Lewis was part of a cultural delegation that was sent to India by then US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The trip was undertaken to commemorate and retrace Dr. King and his wife’s visit to India in 1959 “to study the life and works of Mahatma Gandhi”. The delegation visited New Delhi and travelled around India to some of the principal sites associated with Gandhi’s work. Before embarking on the trip, Lewis said about King and Gandhi: “The two men were not politicians or lawmakers. They were not presidents or popes. But they were inspired human beings who believed deeply in the power of nonviolent resistance to injustice as a tool for social change. Because of their courage, commitment, and vision, this nation has witnessed a nonviolent revolution under the rule of law, a revolution of values and ideas that have changed America forever. We are all a beneficiary of this powerful legacy. Lewis added, “I don’t where I would be if it had not been for the teaching of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr”. 

Congressman John Lewis Introduced to mark the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, the House Bill (HR 5517) affirms the friendship between the two largest democracies of the world and honors the legacy and contributions of Mahatma Gandhi and Dr Martin Luther King. America's legendary civil rights leader Congressman John Lewis has introduced a bill in the House of Representatives to promote the legacy of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr and sought a budgetary allocation of USD 150 million for the next five years. The bill proposes the establishment of a Gandhi-King Scholarly Exchange Initiative. The bill also seeks to establish a Gandhi-King global academy, which would be a professional development training initiative on conflict resolution. Noting that Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr were dedicated leaders fighting for social justice and social change, peace, and civil rights, the bill says that the use of non-violent civil disobedience is a shared tactic that has played a key role in defeating social injustice in India, the United States and other parts of the world. Observing that Dr King's effective use of Gandhi's principles was instrumental to the American civil rights movement, the bill says that there is a long history of civil and social rights movements in the United States and in India.

Indian community is deeply saddened by the passing away of Congressman John Lewis. His extraordinary life inspired many of us. Rep. Lewis’ moral clarity, dedication to protecting human rights, and securing civil liberties for African Americans earned him widespread respect and admiration worldwide. It is difficult to fill the void created by the loss of  a true friend of Indian American community.

' Jul-20-2020