Getting in good trouble: Teaching and learning about John Lewis and CT Vivian

We lost two great men this weekend, two original builders of beloved community: Congressman John Lewis and Rev CT Vivian. They were friends, fellow activists, fellow servants, and left this earth on the same day. People may be more familiar with John Lewis because of his longtime service in Congress, but each of these men were faithful in their work with Dr. King in the Civil Rights movement and faithful in their work in pursuit of the Beloved Community throughout their lives.

Here are some great resources to use in teaching or in learning about these men, their legacy, and how we can build on their work:

I just saw the documentary John Lewis: Good Trouble which came out earlier this month. It tells Lewis’ personal story and also the broader story of activist work during the Civil Rights Movement. The documentary also switches back and forth from the past to the present. As you are seeing footage of the work that went into getting the Voting Rights Act passed, you next are watching news clips and footage from 2013 and beyond that show acts of voter suppression. For teaching about voting rights alone, this documentary would be great for social work policy classes, US history classes, and political science classes. Beyond the voting rights work and voter suppression concerns of today, another powerful piece of this documentary was seeing the young college students in Nashville undergo training to be prepared for the lunch counter sit ins, and seeing the footage of the sit ins. It brings a good topic for reflection/discussion: What is the work I am called to do? What change am I to be a part of? How am I making myself ready?

It was also really poignant to hear John Lewis’ brothers and sisters talk about him when he was younger, and talk about his preaching to the chickens, his desire for education, his faith. It made me think of his brothers and sisters and parents as “good ancestors” in that they could envision his future work and they supported him how they could so that he could prepare. What is the work that we need to do in order that we can be a good ancestor for racial equity and for justice for all?

You can see this on Amazon Prime, Google Play and other digital platforms on demand. I watched it on Amazon Prime for 6.00.

A few years ago, the March trilogy of graphic novels was published (authored by Lewis, and Andrew Aydin and Nate Powel) to tell the story of key events in the Civil Rights movement. Though alot of times we associate graphic novels with kids, these are beautiful novels. Here is a reading guide developed for university students to accompany the first book and could be adapted for any university discipline or really any community setting: https://sites.lsa.umich.edu/marchingforward/wp-content/uploads/sites/500/2017/06/MARCH_ReadingGuide.pdf

One of my favorite “modern prophets” is the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival. Here is a soundbite from him about how we can honor the work of John Lewis via policy action: https://www.msnbc.com/am-joy/watch/john-lewis-remembered-by-rev-dr-william-barber-87937093681 and here is a longer written piece by Barber along these lines: https://www.thenation.com/article/activism/john-lewis-obituary-prophet/

Here is a commentary from Sojourners that is a beautiful look at the faith that drove CT Vivian in his civil rights activism: C.T. Vivian Wanted Us to Remember: The Civil Rights Movement Was Deeply Spiritual. https://sojo.net/articles/ct-vivian-wanted-us-remember-civil-rights-movement-was-deeply-spiritual In this you can see the power of a faithful grandparent in the shaping of a young child, and a young man who saw God in his work.

Here is a Library of Congress Oral History interview with C.T. Vivian, recorded in 2011 for the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. https://www.loc.gov/item/2015669105/ It is a 4 hour interview but rich with detail. He talks about his childhood in the Depression, and also how his mother and grandmother planned ahead and moved so he could be educated in a desegregated school and eventually go to college. (Talk about some visionary women!) He talks about his early work in sit ins in Illinois, his shift from business when he got the call to ministry, how he and his wife answered that call. It is answering that call to ministry which brings him to his time in Nashville at American Baptist Theological Seminary, where he met other civil rights activists including John Lewis. Both Vivian and Lewis learned from James Lawson, and this is where Vivian began to practice the principles of nonviolent direct action in the sit ins of Nashville and other locations. Some of the most emotional and poignant detail is when he is reflecting on organizing the plans for the 1961 Freedom Rides and the commitment to nonviolent action even when others are acting with violence toward you. He also talks about other events in that era that are less well known (or at least, were less well known to me) and shares how he learned of Dr. King’s assassination and of traveling to Memphis after he got the news. Aside from learning history, and first hand reflections on strategies of non violent direct action, this interview also really illustrates the importance of relationships and being in community with people who have the same vision and commitment as you do. It is powerful.

And finally, along the lines of relationships, see these fierce and faithful men looking at the jailers, convinced in the rightness of the work they were doing:

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