I could not have known at the time but, when I was five years old, some 500 miles northeast of my rural Texas home, a young man named John Lewis crossed a bridge for me. That historic day, like many others in his extraordinary life, Congressman Lewis endured the unconscionable to challenge and change the conscience of the nation he loved—to make our union more perfect; to bring us closer to our founding ideals; so that little black children, like me, could pursue our American dreams. 

On a number of occasions, I had the profound privilege to talk with the congressman, to learn from him, to absorb his wisdom and warmth—both the resolve he inspired from afar and the joy he radiated up close. My Ford Foundation colleagues and I were honored to host him for a conversation and were moved deeply by his presence and perspicacity.

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Five years ago, he invited me and others to join him on a 50th anniversary pilgrimage across that modest, Selma bridge—to affirm a sacred conviction, in his words, that “love will conquer hate” and “hope will conquer fear,” that “our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year,” but “the struggle of a lifetime.” That moment was among the most powerful and meaningful of my time on this earth.

Late last night, Congressman John Lewis, my hero, crossed another bridge, from elder to ancestor, with characteristic courage and grace. In marking this passage, we need not idealize Congressman Lewis beyond who he was: A founder of—a righteous force for—a more American United States and a fairer, better world.  

Upon President Abraham Lincoln’s passing, a colleague noted, “he belongs to the ages now.” So, too, does Congressman Lewis, whose life of good troublemaking bequests a legacy of justice across division, and distance, and generations.