Leaders to Learn From: HOW TO SPEAK IN CRISIS
When Congressman John Lewis was just 23 years old, he stormed into national consciousness when he delivered his fiery, unequivocal address at the 1963 March on Washington. Many years later, he described his thoughts right before he rose to speak:
“I looked to my right. I saw hundreds and hundreds of young people who had been involved during the early days. Looked straight ahead, I saw this sea of humanity. Then, I looked to the left. I saw young black men and young white men up in the trees, trying to get a better view,” U.S. Rep. Lewis recalls. “I said to myself, ‘Well, this is it,’ and I looked straight ahead again. And something said to me, ‘Go for it.”
Faced with a crowd of 250,000 at a moment of intense pressure, Congressman Lewis had the presence of mind to pause and see those individuals in trees “trying to get a better view.” He thought about the audience before him, what they needed to hear, and to whom he needed to lift his voice. He shifted our nation’s trajectory at that quiet moment.
In an effort to pay tribute to John Lewis’ heroic legacy, I will try to remember when I get up to speak – to take a moment to look around and see my audience. Let us all follow in his footsteps and notice the people “up in the trees”, the people on the edges who may be more on the outside – and let us do what we can do to bring them in and speak to them.