Rep. Terri Sewell spoke Saturday at the closing luncheon of the 2018 Leadership Conference Celebrating African American History Month at Troy University, telling attendees they must become engaged in the issues of the day.
Sewell, who represents Alabama’s seventh Congressional District, urged those in attendance to become agents of change in the same vein as Rep. John Lewis, who delivered the conference’s opening remarks Friday night.
“It is not enough for us to remember and honor and pay tribute to amazing Americans like John Lewis,” Sewell said. “I submit to you we pick up their baton and continue the race. We have to know our history, but I submit to you we have to make history as well.”
She looked to the young people in the audience and asked them to step up to the plate and fight against injustice, such as voter suppression.
“As long as those barriers are there, there is work to be done,” Sewell said. “Progress is always elusive. Change can happen, but it takes purposeful effort. Every generation has its moments of crisis. The question is: what are you going to do?”
Calling Lewis her hero, Sewell said he helped set the tone for nonviolent change agents in the country.
“The time is always right to do what is right, to borrow the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.,” she said. “Don’t sit back and complain. Vote. The engagement of a few is not enough. We need the engagement of all.”
After Sewell’s speech, a special ceremony honoring Lewis was held at the Troy Public Library.
The City of Troy officially declared it John Lewis Day and unveiled a historic marker and painting of Lewis.
“Leadership without heart is leadership without moral authority, and it’s obvious that Terri Sewell represents us all with great heart,” said Troy University Chancellor Jack Hawkins, Jr. “We are so proud of Congressman Lewis and the opportunity to have him here today. Mr. Congressman, you honor us by allowing us to honor you today.”
Troy Mayor Jason Reeves said he doubts any day will top Saturday for him as mayor.
With state and city representatives in attendance, Lewis said he was “deeply moved.”
“As we were driving up, I saw the signs saying, ‘John Lewis Day,’ and I started crying,” said Lewis, a Pike County native. “I’ve been crying all day. It’s unreal. I wish my great-grandparents were still around, my grandparents, my mother and father, and my teachers.”
Before leaving the podium, Lewis left those in attendance with words of hope and a promise.
“You must never, ever give up. You must never, ever lose hope,” he said. “As long as breath is in my body, I must try to do something to help others as I pass this way.”
Launched in 2002 by Troy University and the City of Troy, the Leadership Conference Celebrating African American History Month is intended to promote dialogue that fosters multicultural collaboration and equip diverse leaders with tools to better serve their organizations and communities. This year’s theme was “Change Agents: Civically Engaged, Academically Oriented and Financially Capable.”