I heard an interview today with Congressman John Lewis, who represents Georgia. If any of you have seen the new movie Selma, you saw Lewis portrayed as the young leader of SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee), who led the March from Selma over the Edmund Pettus Bride in Selma to Montgomery. Lewis' skull was fractured when he was brutally beaten by State Troopers, but before he was taken to the hospital he appeared on TV petitioning for voting rights.
Lewis was one of the first Freedom Riders. He was assaulted in South Carolina, beaten in Birmingham, an angry mob hit him in the head with a wooden crate in Montgomery and he was thrown in jail 40 times.
But here's the awe-inspiring thing. Despite the repeated violence and anger and hatred spewed at him, he remained a firm believer, leader and practicer of non-violence. He and his fellow students studied Ghandi and Thoreau's Civil Disobedience to prepare themselves for their fight for equality. They taught themselves non-violence and practiced it through role-playing: being kicked, spit on, verbally abused, etc. No matter how brutally they were treated, never once did he or one of his comrades hit back.
Lewis attributes his non-violent convictions to developing his ability to love. All of us, he says, need to evolve ourselves to a place of love and forgiveness. "In the bosom of every human being is the spark of the divine," says Lewis. Even as he was being attacked he would remember that every single person started out as an innocent baby, and then through circumstances or teaching strayed from that loving self.
"I will not give up on kind words," said Lewis.
As we reflect on the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. and other non-violent leaders like John Lewis, I hope that we are inspired to let a little more love into our lives. If they could hold love in their hearts despite the anger and violence hurled at them, how much the more should we try to cultivate love and forgiveness in our daily lives. The way we build a "beloved community" is person by person, one act of kindness and understanding at a time.