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Racial and equality bridges to cross

Throughout America, and around the world, millions watched on television a man honoured for his strength and determination to move America from an era of gross racial injustice and inequality, despite a Constitution that clearly states that every citizen is entitled to justice, freedom and respect.

There are many bridges yet to cross in the quest for justice for all. While the list of the brave — black and white — who made the supreme sacrifice in this ongoing struggle is almost endless, the recent death of US congressman John Lewis also touched the hearts of many after a political career of committing himself fully to dismantle an unjust voting system designed to keep members of the black population from participating in what should be a democratic process.

Lewis witnessed leaders who inspired him cut down by the assassin's bullet, but never drifted away from his goal to bring about change, no matter the risk. Despite a terrible beating by police during a civil rights march in 1965, he resisted hatred and a desire for revenge.

He knew those were the weapons used by the Confederates in the South in an effort to destroy the Union and preserve a system that favoured only white people.

It failed.

Although born in the segregated South, and raised in poverty, he could not shake off conditions where blacks were treated as though they were not human beings. Cautioned by his parents about making a fuss, he knew deep down that silence was not the answer. Lewis also knew the road ahead would never improve without action that would be fraught with danger.

The 1965 march in Selma, Alabama, was one those moments in history when the movement for justice would be confronted by those who resented progress for all. Much of the brutally unleased by police, using batons and dogs, was captured by news cameras and Lewis himself could be seen being beaten. It was a dark day for America and civil rights efforts to seek justice.

Lewis's attitude of staying calm and vigilant may have caused one man involved in that day of violence to make his way to Washington in 2009 to offer a personal apology to Lewis for what he had done. The congressman told him he had been forgiven and that he had no ill feelings toward him. At least It was a small step in the right direction.

Even before this civil rights giant could be laid to rest, his legacy was impacting people in America and around the world.

The subject of justice spiralled with a brutal act by a police officer caught on camera taking the life of a man in custody by using his knee to prevent him from breathing. This set off massive waves of protests in the US and globally.

About to explode in the wake of that tragedy was the deadly coronavirus, Covid-19, which turned the world upside down as it raced across the globe, shattering economies and shutting down a wide range of activities, while infecting millions and leaving a heavy death toll in its path.

The US administration under Donald Trump, gearing up for a second term in the White House, was reluctant to accept the grim news that the nation could face a dark period from the virus. Medical experts pulled no punches in declaring that without immediate action America would be putting lives in danger.

In fact, the President brushed off early reports as fake news, claiming it would all disappear, as they had the matter under control. Several months later, the nation was scrambling to cope as Americans died by the thousands, including first responders. The medical experts were correct after all.

Trump knew something much bigger than him was entering the picture; it held the potential to impact his efforts to win enough support for a second term in the Oval office. While he still maintains support from most Republicans, along with his base followers, the virus along with injustice and racial inequality was leading to divisiveness that threatened the nation's future.

Most Americans became extremely concerned about the present leadership, which seemed focused mainly on staying in power as the key principle, hoping that support for the current administration will get them over the finish line in November, no matter what.

Much will depend on how most voters feel about the direction of the nation under Trump's leadership. With federal forces being dispatched to various America cities with orders to keep protesters under control, there is growing concern that America was beginning to lose its grip on the principles of democracy. Some went as far as to hint at dictatorial tactics.

John Lewis, even in his final days, emphasised that real progress would have to involve Americans of all races and ethnic groups residing in the country to apply themselves in unity to open the door to brighter days. Although he was reported as saying he wished he could do more for the country, his legacy of faith and hope may yet bring about the change he strived to achieve.

One expert commenting on the need for strong leadership in the face of mounting international problems, including climate change, placed great emphasis on how important it is for people to get out and vote. He said to make democracy work, the people must speak with their vote. That was something close to the heart of Lewis, and perhaps among the bridges to cross will be the one coming up in November.

If people really get out and vote, perhaps the real winner will be justice itself.

The late John Lewis (Photograph by Lawrence Jackson/AP)

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Published August 12, 2020 at 9:00 am (Updated August 12, 2020 at 10:38 am)

Racial and equality bridges to cross

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