In Honor of Congressman John Lewis (1940-2020)

By Eve J. Higginbotham SM, MD, ML

Eve Higginbotham and John Lewis in graduation regalia

As we continue to mourn the death of Congressman John Lewis, it is important to recognize the lessons he taught us during his lifetime.  Three quotes come to mind which we should consider as we launch a series of virtual town hall meetings related to our initiative, ACT: Action for Cultural Transformation.

The first quote is the following: “We will stand up for what is right, for what is fair and what is just. Health care is a right and not a privilege.”  As we search for improvements to the care of our patients, this quote should be our moral compass.  As clinicians, we should seek to strip away those “race” based correction factors that contribute to additional structural barriers to equitable care.  Basing our approach to the care of patients on arbitrary classifications put forward centuries ago by less than objective scientists is not allowing ourselves to remain open to a refreshed perspective based on the 99.9% genes that we all share.  It is not phenotypic appearance that should drive our approach to the care of patients, but their ancestry. 


A second quote I wish to highlight is the following: “You cannot be afraid to speak up and speak out for what you believe. You have to have courage, raw courage.” Over the next few weeks, in particular we are seeking your honest opinion about our current culture and what you hope for its future.  We live and work in a complex world and thus, your voice is critically important to help identify workable solutions which will translate into a more inclusive community. And  once again, in the words of Congressman Lewis, “We may not have chosen the time, but the time has chosen us.” It has been noted on a number of occasions, this is not just a moment, it is a movement.  A number of our colleagues have volunteered to lead the conversation and in this moment, it really does feel like a movement.  I am thankful for their participation.



I had the pleasure of meeting Congressman Lewis on three occasions and I found him to be a very humble and kind individual.  When I met him, I was amazed how broad and bold his reach across the Civil Rights movement cast such a great shadow of that of a giant, in proportion to his stature and presence.  It brings home the point, that speaking up is what is critically necessary and not amplification of volume or boisterous echoes in the chambers of government but reason, persistence, and love, as Congressman Lewis often referenced. 


Thus, I invite you to join in our virtual discussions over the next few weeks, as we seek to find a way forward to address the effects of structural racism and injustice as a community.  Congressman John Lewis, please rest in peace.  Your torch has been carried to the many generations who honor you and continue your struggle to achieve justice.