‘Say something. Do something.’

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Taron, 18, Stitchers Teen Leader of the Year and a 2016 high school graduate, speaking out through song against gun violence at the St. Louis Storytelling Festival, 2016 Photo by Qingru Chen

U.S. Congressman and civil rights icon, the Honorable John R. Lewis delivered the 2016 Commencement address at Washington University in St. Louis Friday, May 20, in Brookings Quadrangle. He presented powerful lessons to the 2016 graduates at Washington University and beyond — to all of us.

Below is one of several inspiring stories from his speech, followed by a link to the full transcript.

…”When I was growing up, outside of Troy, Alabama, 50 miles from Montgomery, I had an aunt by the name of Seneva and my Aunt Seneva lived in what we call a shotgun house. I know here, in St. Louis, at Washington University, you don’t know what I’m talking about. You have never seen a shotgun house. I know you’re smart and gifted, but you don’t know what I’m talking about.

Well, a shotgun house is an old house — one way in, one way out. In a nonviolent sense, an old house where you can bounce a basketball through the front door, and it will go straight out the back door. I know what I’m talking about because I was born in a shotgun house.

But My Aunt Seneva loved this little house. From time to time, she would walk out into the woods and cut branches from a dogwood tree and tie the branches together and make a broom, and she called that broom the brush broom. On a Friday or Saturday, she would take that brush broom and sweep through that yard very good, because she wanted it to look good during the weekend.

Well, on one Saturday afternoon, we were playing in her dirt yard and an unbelievable storm came up.  The winds started blowing, the thunder starting rolling, the lightning started flashing, the rain started beating on the tin roof of this old shotgun house. She thought it was going to blow away. She got all of us little children to come inside. The wind continued to blow, the thunder continued to roll, the lightning continued to flash. She started crying, and we all started crying. We thought the house was going to blow away. One corner of this old house appeared to be lifting, so she had us to walk to that side to try to hold the house down with our little bodies. When the other corner appeared to be lifting, she had us to walk to that side.  We were little children walking with the wind, but we never, ever left the house.

As children, as humans who live on this little planet we call Earth, let’s never leave the house. Call it a house of Washington University. Call it a house of St. Louis. Call it the house of Atlanta, Georgia. The house of New York. The house of Africa. The house of the Middle East. The house of China. We all live in the same house. We all must be part of that effort to hold down our little house. If you see something that’s not right, not fair, not just, do something about it. Say something. Do something. Have the courage. Have the backbone to get in the way. Walk with the wind. It’s all gonna work out.

I was beaten, yes, several times, left bloodied, but I didn’t give up. I didn’t become bitter. The way of peace, the way of love, the way of nonviolence is a much better way. And it doesn’t matter whether we’re black or white, Latino, Asian American, or Native American. It doesn’t matter whether we’re straight or gay, bisexual, transgendered. We are one people, we are one family, we are one house. We must learn to live together as brothers and sisters.

If you go out and do what you must do, you have the power, you have the ability, not just to change America, but you have to change the world and create a world community at peace with itself. Go out and redeem the soul of America, the soul of the world, help create the Beloved Community. So I say to you today, walk with the wind. And let the spirit of peace, justice and love be your guide.”

Link to John Lewis’ 2016 Commencement address at Washington University in St. Louis: