Congressman John Lewis, U.S. Representative (D-GA 5th District) and legendary civil rights leader, inspired and delighted a packed house at Mayne Stage last night at the James B. Moran Center for Youth Advocacy's 2018 gala where he was honored for his lifelong commitment to putting justice into action.
He took the stage with Andrew Aydin, creator and co-author of the graphic memoir series, MARCH, a comic book that chronicles the life of Congressman Lewis, and the first comics work to ever win the National Book Award.
Earlier in the day, the two men met with incarcerated young people at the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center. The Moran Center had worked with these young people to read and discuss MARCH, prior to Lewis' visit.
"These beautiful, gifted, smart young people--don't they need a second chance?" asked Congressman Lewis. "We have a moral obligation, a mission, and a mandate to give all our children, all our young people, not just in Evanston, not just in Chicago, but all across our nation, a second chance," Lewis said.
"I truly believe that it will be the children, the young people that will help us get there, that will lead the way."
Founded in 1981 and named after Judge James Moran, the Moran Center has been dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline by providing low-income Evanston youth and their families with integrated legal and social work services to improve their quality of life at home, at school, and within the Evanston community.
In 1976, Judge Moran had been prompted by the untimely death of a young man in police custody to call for a local study, which revealed the inadequate representation of low-income residents in Evanston. The findings compelled Judge Moran to establish the Evanston Defender Project in to provide quality, community-based legal representation to youth who came into contact with the criminal justice system.
Judge Moran's daughter, Jennifer G. Moran, introduced the Congressman. Porschia Davis, manager of the City's Mayor's Youth Summer Employment Program and Joi-Anissa Russell, Moran's director of Strategic Partnerships conducted a short and effective paddle raise that resulted in almost $70,000 in donations to support the Center's work.
Following his remarks, instead of leaving the stage, Congressman Lewis broke into a dance--and the audience into applause--to Pharrell's "Happy." He was joined on stage by Evanston Township High School (ETHS) student leaders including Emma Austin Stein and Liana Wallace, who spearheaded the recent student walkout against gun violence.
Here are some excerpts from Congressman Lewis' remarks. You can hear them in the video below, and witness Lewis' Happy Dance with students, Jennifer Moran and the Moran Center's Executive Director Patrick Keenan-Devlin in the video below.
"As a young child, 15 years old, I heard of Rosa Parks, I heard of Martin Luther King, Jr. I met Rosa Parks when I was 17. The next year I met Martin Luther King, Jr. and I got involved in the civil rights movement. If it hadn't been for that movement ... I don't know what would have happened to me, to us, to our nation."
"Too many of our young children are troubled by gun violence. Too many Hispanic children, little children who come here when they are babies and this is the only country they know, why is it impossible to take in these children?"
"The late Asa Randloph, who was the dean of Black leadership, said over and over again when we were planning the March on Washington, 'Maybe our foremothers and our forefathers all came to this great land on different ships, but we're in the same boat now.' That is true today more than ever before ... We are one people, one family, and as Dr. King said, we must learn to live together as brothers and sisters, if not, we will perish like fools."
"We can do it. And maybe if we get it right and rescue our country and our democracy, maybe we can emerge as an example for the rest of the world. They're waiting for us, they're looking for us to lead, to get in the way, to get in trouble, necessary trouble."
If you'd like to contribute to the Moran Center, click here: moran-center.org/donate/