What is the most courageous thing you have ever done? What is the one thing that you knew took not only bravery and daring, but real mental strength? Have you ever asked that question of anyone else? Have you looked at the journey of a hero and wondered what it took to get there? This past weekend, I sat and listened to a man who I wish could sit next to each of you, who could speak into your circles with truth and wisdom and courage.
I found out the hard way that many of you do not like the traditional work-force training classes to which I am accustomed. Classroom training on the job is commonplace. But I finally realized that many of you didn’t like it because, as one of your peers said to me, “what’s the point? We can find everything we need on YouTube.” True enough, my friends. You can. How to use Excel, how to write a good email, how to shine in your resume, how to answer difficult interview questions, even how to bake. You know what you can’t google? The experience of another. Yes, you can find a biography of heroes, people, courageous leaders; but you can’t sit with them, can’t breathe in their courage. You can’t hear the emotion when a person speaks of lessons learned and you can’t capture the passion of a life lived in purpose by reading a mere biography. I would ask that you spend some time on YouTube listening to those who speak to you now. Like Congressman John Lewis.
I listened over the weekend as this man spoke hope into a crowd of what he called the “Beloved Community.” If you are not familiar with that reference, please go google that for sure. John Lewis is a civil rights activist, an author, a congressman, and a man of such courage. He was present when the Voting Rights Act was passed- after having marched, after 40 arrests, after beatings, after being spit on, after being treated inhumanely by those who stood in opposition to equal rights. And this past year, he watched as that same legislation, was completely dismantled and gutted. Everything that he worked for, collapsed with the condescension of those who said that US didn’t need voting protection. That we didn’t have a voting protection problem. And the very next week, the states where John Lewis had ridden those buses, the places where he had been arrested and beaten, immediately passed laws intending to crack down on what is, statistically non-existent voter fraud. When you read between the lines however, you know the truth.
I can’t even begin to know how I would feel. How would you feel, my friends? You build something, you give everything, you work for every moment and success is reached and then dismantled. Does it feel like failure? Does it feel like hopelessness? Does it feel like everything is lost? And it’s lost with a smile and a wink from those who would see it fail because they want to keep the power by any means including cheating. Does it feel like a beating on that bridge in Alabama again? I wondered at his ability to stand in that auditorium and not be angry. I marveled at how hopeful he sounded, even as we see those same sentiments, the same hatred he faced, rearing its head again. I felt my heart hurt and I cried tears of pain because I would probably have given up. I probably would have felt hopeless.But what he said after his re-telling of his journey, his response to the election of Donald Trump, his response to the resurgence of the KKK, stunned me: He said that our hope is in YOU.
How right he is, my friends. He was 23 when he decided to get on the bus, travel to the south as a Freedom Rider. He was only 15 when he met Rosa Parks, 17 when he met Martin Luther King, Jr. He was a college student when he led the sit ins in Nashville, TN. He was like you. He calls it good trouble. His parents, his elders, the generation before him asked that he not rock the boat, that he not get into trouble. Segregation is the way it is, nothing could change, he was told. But it did. He got into a lot of trouble. As he spoke, he reminded us that the progressive revolution of the 1960s was instigated and led by those who were your age. They know what good trouble looks like. And Congressman Lewis repeatedly stated that the only way we will move into the next phase of the beloved community is through the work of the “young people.” You must do so, he said, because when you know something is not right, you must get into trouble. Protesting, kneeling instead of falling in line with expectations, sitting in as a form of standing up for another, giving your privilege to another who doesn’t share it. This is good trouble. Getting involved in local politics, getting involved with the community, taking off the headphones and speaking your truth into a world that desperately needs your presence and your hope. This is good trouble.
For me, I was deeply grateful for his presence both before I was born and now, when we need that reminder. I was also amazed that never once, in the 45 minutes he spoke, never did he lash out in anger. He never blamed anyone. He never cried foul. He asked that we love one another. He asked that we continue to work toward a world that is light-filled not hate-filled. And I realized that this is the blinding moment of courage: He didn’t let anger win.He didn’t drop into apathy, he didn’t give up, he did not blame or try to advocate getting back at anyone. He spoke of reading, of learning how to enlighten himself and his peers. He spoke of education, of collective rising of people into what we can be rather than what we might just give up and fall into being. He lived the worst, he lived the fear, he looked into the eyes of hatred, and he came out hopeful, hope-filled and that light is brighter than any darkness I saw this past week. His light, in that moment on Saturday morning, was incandescent. It was enough to fill a room full of worried, angry, even scared people, with hope. I was one of them and I sat there thinking about you, my friends.
There is cause to be concerned. There is a need for bravery. There is room for all manner of emotions. There are gaping holes in our future that we are fearful will be filled with hatred. But there is also light, and courage. And hope. It exists, my friends, within you. As it did for a young, poor, black man in the Deep South. By all accounts, this man would have been a statistic. But he knew it was time to make good trouble and he sought light and peace. He demanded that this world look him in the eye. He demanded that we find ways to evolve toward a beloved community of God’s children- red and yellow, black and white.
He knows you can do it. So do I.
Take over the world, my Millennials.
I love you so-