As the Miami Valley joins the nation in morning Congressman John Lewis, emerging young leaders are using his more than five decade leadership example to continue the civil rights fight locally.
“Do you see that this wonderful man lived 80 years of life and did all of this work and we get to put him down as a hero and a lot of people didn’t know him and so there is this great thing that we get to tap into,” Solution Movement founder Asia Gibbs said. “A lot of times this can be extremely tiring and so for him to be able to take that activism work and turn it into becoming. Part of our law-making system and getting different acts and pushing forward for our people is such a beautiful thing.”
At a young age, John Lewis became a nationally recognized leader, speaking out on injustices. By 1963, he was known as one of the ‘Big Six’ leaders of the Civil Rights Movement, marching along side Civil Rights giants, like Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. At the age of 23, Lewis was a coordinator, and keynote speaker, for the historic 1963 March on Washington.
From Columbus native Carter Womack’s role as predominantly African American fraternity Phi Beta Sigma former international president, Womack began a long friendship with Lewis. He believes the congressman’s focus was always on paying it forward for young people.
“John would take time to talk with anybody about anything they had to talk about and he felt very strongly that having the conversation with this generation, who would then become the next generation, would understand the importance of them being engaged and committed to be an activist at whatever level they need to be,” Womack said.
Much like protesting changed Lewis’ life, Gibbs life changed the weekend after she peacefully protested George Floyd’s death. She stopped a move to Atlanta and created ‘The Solution Movement’. She has spent the last couple of months leading her own peaceful protests and encouraging honest dialogues between difference races.
“My goal right now is to build meaningful relationships within our community, with the law makers, with the police and with the literal community, and changing those relations,” Gibbs said.
Building community relations is a shared goal of other young, Black Daytonians who have emerged as leaders. Some are focusing on community involvement within their own neighborhoods.
Dayton Young Black Professionals President Daj’za Demmings’ politics and social justice initiative focuses on creating a learning institute.
“To be trained to represent West Dayton in the local state and federal levels,” Demmings said.
For Chaz Amos, his focus after Floyd’s death turned into a 15-week ‘I Love West Dayton’ initiative to clean up and beautify that part of his city.
“In the next five to ten years, we won’t have to wait on something bad to happen to come out and clean the community,” Amos said. “We won’t have to wait for something bad to go out and talk to our neighbor and help our neighbor.”
There is also an important economic focus for business owners like Chantae Winston. Winston is the Founder of The Entrepreneur Market and Entrepreneur Shoppe in historical Wright Dunbar District.
Winston uses her store fronts to create opportunity for entrepreneurs to showcase their products, predominately focusing on the black community.
“I want them to learn about the businesses and where Wright Dunbar was previously.” Winston said. “I just want to take everybody by the hand who I see working hard and needing some help getting their brand push out and be their hero.”
“When you look up the word Civil Human Rights inside of the dictionary, what you are not going to see is a skin color. Because we all have human rights. We all have civil rights. And that is what John Lewis stood for,” Dayton NAACP Pres. Derrick Foword said.
Foward feels Lewis’ legacy will continue to carry on through young Montgomery County demand for change leaders establishing state criminal justice and police reform examples.
“I believe that we have the people here collectively in Montgomery County, Ohio, that we can set a model for our state to follow. And then once we implement this model, in terms of criminal justice reform and police accountability, I believe it is going to serve as a model that is going to inspire all of us to continue to work together,” Foward said.