Lewis will speak on Monday, May 3, at 6:30 p.m. in the Kent Student Center Ballroom, which is located on the second floor of the Kent Student Center. His speech is titled “Coming Full Circle: Democracy, Engagement and Social Change.” The 2010 Democracy Speaker event featuring Lewis is free and open to the public.
“I’m thrilled that Rep. John Lewis will be speaking here as part of the 40th May 4 anniversary,” said Kent State President Lester A. Lefton. “As a leader in the American Civil Rights Movement, Rep. Lewis can talk about the dramatic cultural, social and political changes the nation was going through during the 1960s, leading up to the tragic events that occurred at Kent State, Jackson State and other parts of the country.
“During that time, Rep. Lewis was a college-aged man and student activist,” Lefton continued. “He is a great example of how one’s involvement can come full circle, from his participation and activism as a young student to now being a prominent member of Congress. He helps reinforce the value of political engagement and staying engaged throughout a lifetime.”
A member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Georgia’s Fifth Congressional District, Lewis has been called "one of the most courageous persons the Civil Rights Movement ever produced." He has dedicated his life to protecting human rights, securing civil liberties and building what he calls "The Beloved Community" in America. Recently, he was seen on the news and pictured on the front page of newspapers for accompanying Speaker of the House Rep. Nancy Pelosi to the U.S. Capitol for the health care reform vote.
At a young age, Lewis was inspired by the activism surrounding the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the words of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. In those pivotal moments, he made a decision to become a part of the Civil Rights Movement. Since then, he has remained at the vanguard of progressive social movements and the human rights struggle in the United States.
During the height of the movement from 1963 to 1966, Lewis was named chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), which he helped form. SNCC was largely responsible for organizing student activism in the movement, including sit-ins and other activities.
While still a young man, Lewis became a nationally recognized leader. By 1963, he was dubbed one of the Big Six leaders of the Civil Rights Movement, which included Whitney Young, A. Phillip Randolph, Martin Luther King Jr., James Farmer and Roy Wilkins. At the age of 23, he was an architect of and a keynote speaker at the historic March on Washington in August 1963.
He was elected to Congress in November 1986 and has served as U.S. Representative of Georgia's Fifth Congressional District since then. He is Senior Chief Deputy Whip for the Democratic Party in leadership in the House, a member of the House Ways & Means Committee, a member of its Subcommittee on Income Security and Family Support, and Chairman of its Subcommittee on Oversight.
Lewis received bachelor’s degrees in religion and philosophy from Fisk University, and he is a graduate of the American Baptist Theological Seminary, both in Nashville, Tenn. He has been awarded more than 50 honorary degrees from prestigious colleges and universities throughout the United States.
The 2010 Democracy Speaker program is part of Kent State’s commemoration of the May 4, 1970, events. Other university events include the official ribbon cutting and plaque installation of the May 4 National Register of Historic Places and the dedication of the May 4 Walking Tour on the historic site. The Walking Tour includes visitation panels at eight strategic locations across the site, each representing a key moment in the day’s events. Each panel is supported with historic video and iconic photography representing the events of the day. The tour is narrated by Julian Bond, a student activist of the times.