Congressman John Lewis, who represents Georgia’s 5th district, received the Kennedy School's 2017 Gleitsman Citizen Activist Award during an event at the Institute of Politics Tuesday. The ensuing conversation was moderated by ImeIme Umana, president of the Harvard Law Review, and Nancy F. Koehn of the Business School, and Lewis fielded questions from students and members of the broader Harvard community.
David Gergen presents Rep. Lewis with the 2017 Gleitsman Citizen Activist Award, co-sponsored by the Center for Public Leadership that he co-directs. Gergen is a Public Service Professor at the Kennedy School.
John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum is packed for the conversation that follows the award presentation. The conversation was moderated by ImeIme Umana, the first African American woman to be elected president of the Harvard Law Review and the first African American to to this position since President Barack Obama, and Nancy F. Koehn, the James E. Robinson chair of Business Administration at the Business School.
Responding to a question from Harvard senior William A. Greenlaw, Lewis stresses the importance of activism both within a system and without it, illustrating with an example from his own life: he found that joining marches while working in Congress was not mutually exclusive.
David L. Evans, a senior admissions officer in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, asks about effective methods to engage college students in activism.
A graduate student shares a desire to run for office, and she inquires about the traits Lewis considers important for a potential candidate.
In response, Lewis says, "Just run for office." He says, lightheartedly, that one important trait a candidate needs is to like people—because some people "love the world, but then they hate people."
Harvard senior Amanda J.N. Mozea shares her experience of an alternate spring break spent in Mississippi focused on civil rights and the profound effect it had on her. She asks how to translate that experience to people around her.
A Gleitsman fellow asks Lewis to share any poignant moments of vulnerability in his journey. In response, Lewis shares emotional personal anecdotes of final moments he shared with John F. Kennedy Jr., Martin Luther King Jr., and Robert F. Kennedy before their respective assassinations, describing them as his "heroes."
Lewis responds to the last of several standing ovations of the evening, taking time to acknowledge all sections of audience.
After the forum, throngs of attendees vie for a minute of the congressman's time for photographs, autographs or to share a word of gratitude.