By Kate Kight
Washington D.C., (The Hollywood Times) 9/22/16 – Sponsored by Bank of America, Politico Playbook events are a staple bring together D.C insiders, political officials, and thought leaders to discuss current events. Free and often accompanied by an open bar, they are a favorite spot for interns to rub shoulders with D.C.’s elite.
This evening was dedicated to the upcoming opening of the National African-American History Museum, a Smithsonian Institution over a decade in the making. Representative John Lewis was instrumental not only in passing the bill that created the museum, but also ensuring the location on “the front porch of America”: the National Mall.
A striking building steps from the Washington Monument, with free admittance and a ribbon cutting headlined by President Obama, the museum is expecting a rush of visitors. For the first several months, visitors are required to sign up for passes that admit them during an hour window.
The evening’s event, originally slated to begin at 5:30 p.m., was held up for two hours as Congress voted on several last minute resolutions. At 7:30 p.m., Playbook co-authors Jake Sherman and Anna Palmer began the program by welcoming Bank of America Government Affairs Director John Collingwood. While his company sponsors many Playbook events throughout the year, this one was particularly important to their team. Bank of American is a founding donor to the Museum of African-American history, and their CEO sits on the board of the museum. Certainly, Bank of America has made a commendable commitment to African-American history, though it is also worth noting that on an executive team of 15 people, there is not a single African-American officer.
After brief remarks from Mr. Collingwood, Rep. John Lewis took the stage to rousing applause. Palmer and Sherman questioned him about the experience of walking through the museum he helped create. “I did my best not to cry” he said.
It is hard to imagine walking through a museum and seeing yourself represented as an icon of a movement that changed the world, but Rep. Lewis discussed it with humility.
The conversation quickly moved to the topic that was on all our minds: What was it like to be preparing to open the National Museum of African American history in the midst of unending violence against black people in America?
“We have to teach people to respect the worth and dignity of every human being”, Rep. Lewis said. His message to young people was clear “Study! Stand up and get involved”. He described the meetings he attended in college. Every Tuesday at 6:30 p.m., he and his fellow students studied Gandhi, Thoreau, and Dr. Martin Luther King in order to commit themselves to the “ways of nonviolence.” He urged students of today to study the movement in order to be prepared for the fights of today.
The audience was allowed to ask one question, and a young woman stood up, describing herself as “a little starstruck”. Her voice steadied, however, as she talked of her own studies of the civil rights movements, “it’s highly centered on black men” she said.
Rep. Lewis didn’t hesitate in his response, “I do believe women were discriminated against”. He listed the many women he worked with, like Jo Ann Robinson, who organized the first bus boycott, but are too often left out of the annals of history.
The conversation inevitably turned to Donald Trump, who was holding a town hall on race that very evening. The crowd laughed at the notion, but Rep. Lewis was very serious, “I don’t know where this man is coming from, I really don’t”.
It was easy, in thinking of the rhetoric this presidential campaign has generated, the recent violence in Oklahoma and North Carolina, to despair at any progress America has made. Rep. John Lewis, however, closed out the night by reminding us to ‘Enjoy life and never get lost in a sea of despair”. For a man who has fought so hard for so long, these are inspiring words indeed.