Mahoning Sojourn to the Past members reflect on Congressman John Lewis’ death

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"When I shook his hand, I knew I was shaking the hand of history," said one member of the Mahoning Valley Sojourn to the Past

(WKBN) – Congressman and civil rights leader John Lewis left a lasting impact on the country, but here in Youngstown, he touched the lives of so many people, especially young people.

“When I shook his hand, I knew I was shaking the hand of history,” said Brian Finley of the Mahoning Valley Sojourn to the Past.

Since 2007, Mahoning Sojourn to the Past members have gone through the path of the civil rights movement, going to different cities to see how these leaders fought for equal rights through peace. During their trip, they got to listen to Congressman John Lewis speak.

“It was awesome just seeing in-person, knowing everything that he did, seeing the speeches that he did on film. It was the same as anything. He still had that power, that vigor,” Finley.

“Where you can tell that he’s passionate and knows what he’s talking about and you can tell that real life, went through, what he went through,” said Micah Smith, also of the Mahoning Valley Sojourn to the Past.

Walking across Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, with 600 people in a peaceful demonstration demanding voting rights for Black people where they were attacked by state police.

“Just learning from him and seeing his teachings really made me know the path of non-violence and know the path of peace and walking in faith,” Finley said.

“Don’t just be passive. When you see a wrong, speak up. Don’t be afraid to stand up, to be the only one that might be saying what’s right and just and fair,” said Penny Wells, of the Mahoning Valley Sojourn to the Past.

When meeting Lewis, they knew they were in the presence of a leader, thanking him for his good works.

“And he just embraced me with a hug, and that just said a million words without even saying anything. Just like his action of hugging me was very surreal,” said Smith.

When Lewis passed away Friday, it took a big hit.

“When I seen John Lewis passed, I was like, ‘Oh my God.’ My heart dropped. I couldn’t believe it,” said Finley.

“I was devastated. My heart is crushed,” Wells said.

Now, they hope to continue to use his same teachings today.

“So, seeing him and everything that came from that, I know that the non-violent path and being non-violent, and you can actually achieve what you want to achieve,” Finley said.

“Just seeing all the injustices happening in America,” Smith said, “even in the midst of a pandemic, still fighting for our voices to be heard.”

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