ATLANTA - Congressman John Lewis left behind an essay to be published on the day of his funeral. It was published in the New York Times Thursday morning.
"While my time here has now come to an end, I want you to know that in the last days and hours of my life you inspired me. You filled me with hope about the next chapter of the great American story when you used your power to make a difference in our society. Millions of people motivated simply by human compassion laid down the burdens of division. Around the country and the world you set aside race, class, age, language and nationality to demand respect for human dignity.
"That is why I had to visit Black Lives Matter Plaza in Washington, though I was admitted to the hospital the following day. I just had to see and feel it for myself that, after many years of silent witness, the truth is still marching on.
"Emmett Till was my George Floyd. He was my Rayshard Brooks, Sandra Bland and Breonna Taylor. He was 14 when he was killed, and I was only 15 years old at the time. I will never ever forget the moment when it became so clear that he could easily have been me. In those days, fear constrained us like an imaginary prison, and troubling thoughts of potential brutality committed for no understandable reason were the bars.
"Though I was surrounded by two loving parents, plenty of brothers, sisters and cousins, their love could not protect me from the unholy oppression waiting just outside that family circle. Unchecked, unrestrained violence and government-sanctioned terror had the power to turn a simple stroll to the store for some Skittles or an innocent morning jog down a lonesome country road into a nightmare. If we are to survive as one unified nation, we must discover what so readily takes root in our hearts that could rob Mother Emanuel Church in South Carolina of her brightest and best, shoot unwitting concertgoers in Las Vegas and choke to death the hopes and dreams of a gifted violinist like Elijah McClain.
"Like so many young people today, I was searching for a way out, or some might say a way in, and then I heard the voice of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on an old radio. He was talking about the philosophy and discipline of nonviolence. He said we are all complicit when we tolerate injustice. He said it is not enough to say it will get better by and by. He said each of us has a moral obligation to stand up, speak up and speak out. When you see something that is not right, you must say something. You must do something. Democracy is not a state. It is an act, and each generation must do its part to help build what we called the Beloved Community, a nation and world society at peace with itself.
"Ordinary people with extraordinary vision can redeem the soul of America by getting in what I call good trouble, necessary trouble. Voting and participating in the democratic process are key. The vote is the most powerful nonviolent change agent you have in a democratic society. You must use it because it is not guaranteed. You can lose it.
"You must also study and learn the lessons of history because humanity has been involved in this soul-wrenching, existential struggle for a very long time. People on every continent have stood in your shoes, though decades and centuries before you. The truth does not change, and that is why the answers worked out long ago can help you find solutions to the challenges of our time. Continue to build union between movements stretching across the globe because we must put away our willingness to profit from the exploitation of others.
"Though I may not be here with you, I urge you to answer the highest calling of your heart and stand up for what you truly believe. In my life I have done all I can to demonstrate that the way of peace, the way of love and nonviolence is the more excellent way. Now it is your turn to let freedom ring.
"When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war. So I say to you, walk with the wind, brothers and sisters, and let the spirit of peace and the power of everlasting love be your guide."
Destiny Britt, a local activist, said emotions swell up inside as she read the essay.
"I felt like I was sitting in the same room with him like I actually had the chance to have a one on one," she said.
Britt is an activist and a part of a task force called The People's Uprising. They recently named a caravan trip to Kentucky and Tennessee in honor of the Congressman.
"We named it the Good Trouble Ride and a few days after we named it that, he passed away. It was just so ironic that that happened. It felt like we were able to give him that last acknowledgment and he was able to give me that right back in the article that he wrote," Britt said.
For a young activist, Lewis' parting words felt personal, motivational and a powerful calling to continue the fight.
"He passed down the torch to us. I feel like now I have no choice but to continue on and make sure his legacy is never forgotten and we still have to fight the good fight," Britt said.
These sentiments were also felt by another young leader.
"Very spirit that our congressman and our now ancestor left with us, gave us motivation to keep on going. Sort of like a remarkable reminder that you are doing what it is you need to be doing right now," said Rev. James Woodall.
Woodall is the State President of the Georgia NAACP, the youngest in the association's history.
Woodall and Britt say it's now their turn to fight and continue the work of Congressman Lewis.
"We will not rest until that liberation, that freedom, that promise, that justice comes. Our dear departed ancestor now takes his rest in his eternal glory. We are thankful for his work and we'll take it the next step of the way," Woodall said.