Congressman John Lewis, in and beyond life, was and is a mighty force for change. His physical stature, humility and soft-spoken quality belied his unparalleled strength in a lifelong pursuit of racial justice. His was a life that we all can learn from and emulate.
What resonates most with me is John’s signature refrain about getting into good trouble, harkening back to his parent’s admonition to not get into trouble and his inclination to get into good trouble – the kind needed to change the world for the better. I also identify strongly with him using his voice and actions for change, his relentlessness, his warmth and respect for fellow human beings, and his understanding of the role of policies and institutionalized forms of racism. Operating at the intersection of race, politics and education provides the best chance for meaningful change.
When I spoke with John prior to City College of New York’s 2019 commencement, his characteristic warmth and ability to connect with others was apparent. He recognized the important role I was playing as an engineering educator and leader and he encouraged me to stay strong and persevere in overcoming the obstacles he knew I would face as a Black woman in my field and in our society. I could not have been more honored or humbled in his presence or more dedicated to continuing the struggle that he and others had given their lives for.
Throughout my life, I have been a proponent of good trouble. It’s what has allowed me to break barriers and has driven me to work to open doors and provide opportunities for others. I challenge myself and the Olin community to live up to our mission and to the spirit embodied by John Lewis. We have an opportunity to further transform engineering education – indeed, all higher education – through constant change and innovation seen through a lens of equity and social justice.