Civil rights legend and Congressman John Lewis told a packed house at Cal State LA to always fight for what you believe in and never give up your dreams.
Lewis joined Congressman Xavier Becerra on Saturday for a moving conversation about the Civil Rights Movement at the University-Student Union Theatre. The event was followed by a screening of the critically acclaimed film Selma.
"When you see something that is not right, fair or just, you have to speak up," Lewis told the crowd that had filled the theatre to hear the iconic civil rights leader speak about a pivotal chapter in U.S. history.
Lewis, who marched with and battled for equality with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., has dedicated his career to achieving justice for all and is one of the most respected members of Congress. He has represented Georgia's 5th Congressional District since 1986.
The son of sharecroppers, he recalled growing up in the Jim Crow South and picking cotton as a child in Alabama. As a student, he said, he loved reading but was unable to get a library card because he was Black.
But he read newspapers and learned about Rosa Parks and the struggle for equality through non-violent protest. "The actions of Rosa Parks and the words and leadership of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. inspired me," Lewis said.
As Lewis spoke, people in the audience listened, rapt. They included Cal State LA students, community leaders, high school students from Becerra's 34th Congressional District and officials such as Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez, Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent Michelle King and Los Angeles Community College District Chancellor Francisco Rodriguez.
The event was sponsored by Becerra, Cal State LA President William A. Covino, and the University’s Department of Pan-African Studies and Black Student Union.
"The sacrifices of courageous men and women like Congressman Lewis fundamentally altered the course of this nation's history,” Covino told the audience. “They put their lives on the line for a principled and just cause, and today we all reap the benefits of living in a nation that is more fair and equitable because of their struggle."
Becerra credited Lewis for working to bring Latinos and African Americans together to battle for common goals, including justice for immigrants.
“Comprehensive immigration reform is needed, is a must,” Lewis said in response to a question by Becerra. “There is no such thing as an illegal human being.”
His remarks drew applause from the audience.
Aminah Bakeer Abdul-Jabbaar, a filmmaker who teaches in the Pan-African Studies Department, said that seeing Lewis on stage made her feel proud to be part of the Cal State LA community.
“This is a good step for us as a University to take,” she said. “It shows that we value our history, African American history, the Civil Rights Movement. This is huge.”
Photos: Top, Congressman John Lewis with Congressman Xavier Becerra. Bottom right, Cal State LA President William A. Covino greets Lewis as LAUSD Superintendent Michelle King looks on. (Credit: J. Emilio Flores/Cal State LA)