A day like no other took place Friday with a grand gathering on a famous street for a rededication and celebration of the late Congressman John Lewis.

A cloudy sky gave reprieve from the high temperatures forecast for the day as a number of people, from former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams to the wise and ever-present former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young, milled about. It was a busy morning on Auburn Avenue in front of the HERO memorial dedicated to the late Civil Rights legend. 

Lewis’ brothers, Henry and Samuel, were also in attendance for the mural rededication to reflect on how the men and women of today can positively impact future generations.

It’s been a year since the people in the community lost Lewis, but it wasn’t a sad reunion or celebration, but it was a call to action to remember his legacy.

A hand bell salute was done at 11 a.m. for 80 seconds to initiate a community-wide moment of reflection for the eight decades of Congressman Lewis’ life. Following the salute, The Voice season 18 runner-up Toneisha Harris sang a song that she wrote in 2011 about her son who was battled leukemia. Harris was able to bring tears to the eyes of the audience with her original song “My SuperHero.” 

“[My son] was diagnosed with leukemia and I just wanted him to have hope at that time, at a very trying time,” Harris said. “I wanted him to remember his resilience. I wanted him to remember above all else he had the ability to fight. Sometimes people need to be reminded of that. That really was the premise of that song.”

When the opportunity was offered to Harris to perform at the event, the song was a first choice for her and rightfully so.

“I thought what better song than “My SuperHero” because that’s exactly what John Lewis has been for so many of us,” Harris said. “He definitely let us know we weren’t going to fight this alone and I think that’s the message he left for us to continue the thought and the premise of community and getting back to that and fighting together.”

A.J. Robinson, the President of Central Atlanta Progress and the Atlanta Downtown Improvement District started the rededication with words. 

He was followed by Abrams who recalled her first time meeting Congressman Lewis.

“I was a college student at Spelman – he was a young city councilman having recently won an election for a congressional seat,” Abrams said. “I got to meet him, I knew the legend, I knew the stories, but you don’t know John Lewis until you know John Lewis.”

She continued, “You see, this is a man who could stand in the midst of thousands screaming his name and feel so much like your best friend. He’s a man who believed there were no strangers in this world, they were just people you needed to learn to love. He was a man whose legend never outshone his reality.”

The ceremony was enough to stop bystanders in their tracks. Bike riders rode by the event, stopping to listen, so did people dressed in business attire on their morning commute.

The second speaker of the event was Young, who for 10 minutes broke down how he remembered the young Lewis. From a time that he saw Lewis, who he says walked away from him because of a focus on work, to his courageous traits.

“I think that’s the spirit that we need to maintain to not only maintain the memory of John Lewis but to continue all of the work that he has started and we must continue,” Young said.

The rest of the program went without a hitch, City Councilman Amir Farokhi also spoke and the Atlanta Symphony Youth Orchestra performance by Brandon Leonard and more.

During a panel discussion, the 58th Mayor of Atlanta Shirley Franklin was asked to sum up the career and the life of Lewis. It’s something that wouldn’t be easy but was enough for Franklin to sum up in her own words on a stage in the Auburn Avenue Research Library.

“That’s a big question,” Franklin said with a smile crossing her face. “We could be here all day telling stories about John, but for me, I met John Lewis when I was 18 years old in 1963 and I met him because he was at the March on Washington.

“You have to embrace his spirit. What he cared about – his values. John was a pretty tough politician,” she continued. “We talk about him as if the things he did were easy to do but he was a very shrewd and creative politician as well. It was really his spirit that captured me that day. He was young, he was vibrant, he was fiery, he was determined. He stood up to the elders, so to speak. For many of us as young people at the time, that was a big deal.”

 

At the John Lewis Memorial at the corner of Auburn Avenue and Jesse Hill Drive on Friday, July 30, 2021. (Photo Credit: Itoro N. Umontuen/The Atlanta Voice