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Get in Good Trouble, Necessary Trouble

A great American civil rights icon died last month. His name is John Lewis. He represented the state of Georgia as a congressman since 1986 until his death this year.

As a young man, Lewis joined so many protest actions, fighting for justice and equality for African Americans. He was one of the peaceful demonstrators beaten by white state troopers in what is now known as “Bloody Sunday.” The historical context was people were protesting police brutality on March 7, 1965 when they were attacked as they crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge outside Selma, Alabama.

Great men and women, like Lewis, often leave behind passionate exhortations that people take to heart, inspiring and motivating them to act.

John F. Kennedy is famous for his famed words, “Ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country.”

Joan of Arc, who was burned at the stake, reminded us with the words, “Children say that people are hung sometimes for speaking the truth. I am not afraid; I was born to do this.”

Andres Bonifacio, a Filipino revolutionary who was executed by his political rivals, said, “Reason teaches us to be united in will, united in thought, and united in purpose and that we might have strength to combat the prevailing evil in our nation.”

For John Lewis, it is, “Never ever be afraid to make noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.”

What a powerful admonition that, at first, did not sink in because, as a young boy, I was often admonished by my parents to avoid getting in trouble. That’s the way I was raised. Getting in trouble these days often connotes doing something egregious, as when politicians are caught in uncompromising salacious behavior or are engaged in corruption.

So without being philosophical about it, is there such a thing as “good trouble” or “necessary trouble”? If there is, what would be an example?

One cannot fully answer the question or understand Lewis’ admonition without understanding the man himself.

For Lewis, “getting in good and necessary trouble” means doing something out of the ordinary or what is generally accepted. As he himself said, “Sometimes you have to make a way out of no way. Find a way to get in the way.”

Doing something out of the ordinary often involves risks. It takes guts. It takes having a sense of purpose, often a higher purpose.

During his lifetime he participated in so many sit-ins and prayer rallies for people to have the right to vote. He was not afraid to speak against injustice of whatever shape or form, even if it meant being arrested on several occasions.

He once said, “Some of us gave a little blood for the right to participate in the democratic process.” He was beaten, left bloody, but never gave up getting in good trouble.

As an ordained minister, he did not just preach. He acted on what he preached. And when he became a congressman, he continued his fight for social justice by sponsoring and supporting bills that benefit the marginalized. One of his first bills was the creation of the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Considered a troublemaker by those who felt threatened by his activism and for encouraging the people to speak out when they see something that is not fair, he never wavered in his commitment to fight for racial equality.

The Lewis that I’ve read about and eulogized last month by President Barack Obama as a friend and a mentor has a message that continues to reverberate in the hearts of individuals who want societal change. The message is timeless. It is addressed to everyone, no matter what the color of one’s skin is, no matter what the person’s nationality is.

The message is quite simple: When faced with injustice and inequality, get in good and necessary trouble, no matter what the consequences are.

It is a message that challenges. But it is also a message of hope.

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