“I Remember Meeting John Lewis Like It Was This Morning.”
This blog post was written by guest blogger, Kyle Zimmer, president, CEO, and co-founder of First Book.
Dear First Book Community:
Over the course of my life, I have been fortunate enough to meet talented, famous people from time to time. Best-selling authors, musicians, and, as a long-time Washingtonian, many political leaders. Honestly, while I am often impressed by their talent, or even inspired by their accomplishments, the meetings mostly come and go without making much of a lasting impression.
But I remember meeting John Lewis like it was this morning. I was nearly speechless. I said something awkward like, “This is such an honor that I honestly do not know what to say.” I was obviously struggling. He gave me a smile, reached for my hand, and said, “Well, here let me help, people tell me that I am quite a conversationalist.” He went on to talk about the power of books and the potential of First Book, in particular. He spoke with such conviction, as he always did, that he fueled my own courage. As real leaders do.
There was something so much larger than life about him. Knowing that he had faced death repeatedly – all for the cause of justice – will renew my courage for the rest of my days. And knowing – for all the hostility he had faced – that he continued to believe in the power of love over hate, will forever renew my faith in humanity. The fact that he found the way to be compassionate to someone who had lost their ability to speak in front of him – is forever etched in my heart.
I also remember watching Congressman Lewis at a National Book Awards event several years ago, where he emotionally recalled being told in 1956 that public libraries were for ‘whites only’. But in the next breath he remembered his elementary school teacher encouraging him with the words, “Read, my child, read.” This is the power of educators.
John Lewis was a true legend. In his passing it is fitting to remember that this son of sharecroppers born in Troy, Alabama, who went on to become a senior statesman, a U.S. Congressman and a national treasure, recognized to his last days the role of his elementary teacher and the power of education.
All of us at First Book are eternally grateful to Congressman Lewis for his leadership. We are also deeply grateful for the love and commitment that each of you, in the First Book community, share every day with every child you serve. You are transforming the future for our nation, one child at a time.
Thank you endlessly,