Congressman John Lewis was many things: activist, politician, statesman. And he was also an incredible educator. He never missed a moment to speak to students about a host of topics such as the civil rights movement, voting rights, and the road ahead.
I was blessed to know Congressman Lewis for most of my life. I was also blessed to collaborate with him on a new book Carry On: Reflections for a New Generation, in which he shares his meditations on courage, hope, faith, voting rights. And also mentorship.
Here is an exclusive excerpt from the book in which Congressman John Lewis shares his views on mentorship. How to find and be one.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was my mentor. He, more than anyone else, helped make me the person who I am today. Dr. King taught us that we must have love in our hearts and for our fellow brothers and sisters. He taught us all so much about how to live through his actions and words. He freed and liberated Blacks and whites and everyone from a culture of division into one of unity.
If I could say something to Dr. King today, I would say, “Hello, Dr. King, how are you?” And then I would say, “Thank you. Thank you for all that you did for us to improve our country and our world, for leading by example and showing us how to live with freedom and compassion, and how to die with conviction and grace.” I would catch him up on this year 2020 especially and say, “Look at the progress we’ve made and look at the work we still have to do. We’ve been remembering your example and listening to your words. We can still hear you. I hear you every day.”
Young people today can look to people in their families and in their communities to find mentors. You don’t have to have all the answers. You don’t have to know everything. You already know in your heart what is right and good, what is decent, just, fair. If you want to grow, find someone who has walked the walk. A mentor is a sounding board who gives you direction and guidance, and who asks you questions for you to work out on your own. We all need mentors. We stand on the shoulders of those who came before us.
The time will come when you will need to become a mentor to the next generation. Pass on what you’ve learned to those who are assuming the mantle. Pass the torch, because the fight never ends. I make every effort to write, teach, and advise those who are involved in the Black Lives Matter movement so that they can learn about how we acted according to the dictates of our heart in the 1960s during the civil rights movement. We can all learn how to be nonviolent and take the high road. That takes work, training, guidance, and mentorship.
It’s always a good time to be with someone: Listen to someone without interrupting them, and then show them the way to respond to what’s in their hearts. We must all develop the next generation because they are the stewards of the house of humanity, the global house. They will determine the course of freedom and justice for all.
Find a mentor. Be a mentor.
Excerpted from the book CARRY ON: REFLECTIONS FOR A NEW GENERATION by John Lewis with Kabir Sehgal.
Copyright © 2021 by John Robert Lewis and Kabir Sehgal.
Reprinted with permission of Grand Central Publishing. All rights reserved.
Kabir Sehgal is a Multi Grammy & Latin Grammy Award winner, as well as New York Times bestselling author.