Congressman John Lewis with members of the Potomac School community, including Head of School John Kowalik (far right).
Iconic civil rights leader and U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-Georgia) visited The Potomac School on April 12, to share a message of unity, peace, and nonviolence. He told the assembled students, “You are the future. You will be the great leaders of the 21st century.”
The representative for Georgia's 5th congressional district, Congressman Lewis is widely recognized as one of the "Big Six" leaders of the civil rights movement of the 1960s. As chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, he played a key role in the struggle to end legalized racial discrimination. He was a Freedom Rider, organized lunch counter sit-ins, and spoke at the 1963 March on Washington. He is perhaps best known as a leader of the voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery on March 7, 1965 – a day that became known as “Bloody Sunday” after the marchers were violently attacked by state troopers. A member of Congress since 1987, Lewis has continued to devote his life to protecting human rights, securing civil liberties, and building what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called "The Beloved Community” in America.
Upon arriving at Potomac, Lewis was welcomed by the Third Grade Chorus, who offered songs both celebratory and patriotic. He thanked the youngsters, telling them, “Music was so important during the Civil Rights movement. Without our songs to lift us up, the movement would have been like a bird without wings.”
Later, the Congressman spoke to an audience of several hundred, including the school’s fourth through twelfth grade students, faculty and staff and parents. He shared personal stories of the fight against discrimination and encouraged his listeners – especially the students – to become activists committed to the ideals of peace, love, and nonviolence. “You can teach America and the rest of the world a lesson,” Lewis said. “Be hopeful, be optimistic, and always stand up when you see something that’s wrong, unfair or unjust.”
Lewis was accompanied by his digital director and policy advisor, Andrew Aydin. The two co-authored the New York Times best-selling graphic novels “March: Book One” and “March: Book Two” (with “March: Book Three” soon to be released). The books offer young people “a vivid first-hand account of John Lewis’s lifelong struggle for civil and human rights.” In preparation for the Congressman’s visit, Potomac students in grades 7 and 8 read “March: Book One,” and the entire school community was invited to a weekend screening of the film “Selma.”
Reflecting on the visit, Head of School John Kowalik remarked, “It was an honor to welcome Congressman Lewis to our campus. His message of love, nonviolence, and standing against injustice is consistent with the values that we teach and model at Potomac. His words clearly had a powerful impact on our students, faculty, and friends, who gave him a heartfelt standing ovation. This was an event that the Potomac community will not soon forget.”