My heart aches. My tears flow. I mourn.
Two men who helped shape my core values passed away yesterday. One everyone knows. The other less ‘famous’, but just as influential in my life.
John Lewis and C.T. Vivian. May they rest in peace.
I had the distinct honor of working with these two giants of the Civil Rights movement in Atlanta, Georgia in the 80’s. As everyone who crossed paths with these two men, I remain forever changed. Their intense commitment to social justice and equality is truly the real deal.
C.T. Vivian was my mentor for race relations. I first met him through Leadership Atlanta and stayed in touch with him for years. He taught me so much. One pivotal exchange that stays with me is when we first met noticing my name, my undeniable Whiteness, and my proudly embraced Cuban roots, he tells me: “You are obviously not Black; but, here in the South you ain’t White either.” He coached me how to navigate what was to become my life’s journey in this never-never land of embracing Blackness, living Whiteness, and dreaming in Cuban. Complicated indeed.
My interaction with John Lewis was much more pragmatic. He was a City Councilmember and I was the young Executive Director of the Atlanta Community Design Center. We crossed path when we conceptualized the very early stages of what was to become APEX, the African American Panoramic Experience (under the stewardship of Dan Moore.) I so admired his amazing skill of navigating complicated, critical issues with the grace which defines him. A true master of positive messaging and speaking truth to power - even when he was part of ‘the system’. Of the various conversations we had, I will never forget him sharing with me after a contentious public exchange: “Young man, it is ok. Just remember to never compromise your core values of fairness and justice for personal gain or political expediency.” Oh, how wise. Today more than ever.
Quite poetic that these two giants left us the same day. That means we have to work double hard and twice as intense to continue the path they helped pave towards the beloved community.