News

Bookmark and Share

Congressman, Civil Rights Activist Visits Takoma Academy

Story by David Turner
Published 2/28/12


Virginia Mathis, a teacher in Takoma Academy’s Applied Arts department, and David Daniels, TA principal, flank their special Valentine’s Day guest: U.S. Rep. John Lewis.

While schools around the country engaged in Valentine’s Day activities, the campus of Takoma Academy (TA) in Takoma Park, Md., welcomed a man who walked with Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. as the nation prepared to address civil rights: U.S. Rep. John Lewis.

After weeks of planning—an effort led by TA’s own Virginia Mathis, a teacher in the Applied Arts department—the congressman walked through the doors of TA’s chapel, where the student body greeted him with thunderous applause. Once at the podium, Lewis graciously thanked graduating senior Courtney D’ Avilar and freshman Simone Kirlew for a wonderful and humbling introduction. He then addressed his waiting audience for just over an hour, and responded to questions posed by faculty and staff.

TA’s student body heard firsthand of the struggle and injustice the early activist endured, the justice civil rights leaders pursued and a nation that seemed intent on prejudice. Lewis took the school on a journey from his small country home in Alabama, where his sharecropper parents sought to ensure that he and his siblings had a chance to do better than they, in a nation that was ripe with opportunity but still sowed the sour fruits of racial divide. It was during his attempt in 1957 to enter college that the “boy from Troy” encountered King and thus began his active role in the civil rights struggle.

According to Lewis, “We are better today because of the struggle.” So, powerful and profound was his presentation that the audience only occasionally broke their silence to shout “Amen!” and “Halleluiah!” Graduating senior Seline Allen asked Lewis about his views on religion and Jesus. He stated, “Jesus was a man of peace. He came to save and redeem and, if we were to read and follow His words, we will be better human beings.” It is no wonder that Lewis is so well respected on both sides of the aisle in the U.S. Congress. Nancy Pelosi, the Minority Leader of the U.S. House of Representatives, has referred to him as “the Conscience of the U.S. Congress.”

As he closed, Lewis passionately pleaded with the students to “stay in school, and let your faith be your guide.” Before leaving, he invited TA’s choir, which had previously performed three songs under the direction of Lulu Mupfumbu, to share one more number. “It was the music that made a lot of the pain of the 50s, and even today, bearable,” he stated.

Lewis took a seat as close to the choir as he could possibly get, then absorbed a moving rendition of “Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho.” The event concluded with an invitation from principal David Daniel for faculty, parents and students to stand in-turn and thank Rep. Lewis for enduring through the journey.


Rep. John Lewis conveys his journey through the civil rights movement with the student body at Takoma Academy in Takoma Park, Md.


The Takoma Academy choir performs special numbers for their guest, Rep. John Lewis.