I think nonviolence should be a priority, and men like Congressman John Lewis, he embodied those principles of nonviolent communication, humbleness. His selflessness motivates me and encourages me to want to be better, especially representing his name, because who he was embodied everything that was great about America...He said, when you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have to speak up. ‘You have to say something, you have to do something.’…That’s what I want to do. That’s what I want to represent when I go into a community.
- Shannon Battle, the 2020 Congressman John Lewis Fellow, after the late civil rights leader’s passing
Free Minds launched the Congressman John Lewis Fellowship in 2017. This full-time fellowship provides a formerly incarcerated Free Minds member the opportunity to gain valuable professional, leadership, and advocacy experience while working as a staff member for Free Minds. The fellow leads Free Minds’ “On the Same Page” youth violence prevention initiative, uses the literary arts to advocate for nonviolence and racial equity, is the chair of the member-led Leadership Council, and assists with reentry and community engagement programming.
This fellowship is inspired by the work of Congressman John Lewis, one of the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s and the late Representative for the state of Georgia.
John Lewis was also the author of the graphic novel trilogy March, depicting his important work to end legalized racial segregation. Lewis and his March co-author Andrew Aydin visited the Free Minds Book Club at the DC Jail in 2016 to share his remarkable story with 16- and 17-year-old boys incarcerated as adults at the DC Jail.
One teenager in the book club at the DC Jail described the visit as “life-changing” and said that Congressman Lewis inspired him and shows him “that any black man can be who we want to be and that we shouldn’t give up.” This visit to the DC Jail was covered by WJLA.
Although Congressman Lewis was not able to meet the Lewis Fellows, he wrote in a letter, “I am proud to witness a new generation of bold leaders, like the Free Minds Poet Ambassadors and the first Congressman John Lewis Fellow. You are all courageous and you are leading the fight for what is fair and just.”