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Rep. John Lewis: 'Find A Way To Get In The Way'

Rep. John Lewis delivered a stirring speech at the 2015 CARE National Conference in Washington, D.C.

Congressman John Lewis stands a podium on stage at the 2015 CARE National Conference.

Full transcript of Rep. John Lewis’ speech. 

Good evening, I’ve been trying to get here. We had a few votes on the floor, not anything that important, really. What you’re doing is much more important. I’m so happy and so pleased to be here tonight. Some of you have heard me tell the story, I don’t want to tell it. It is just good to be here. I come here to say thank you to all that each one of you do.

When I was growing up in rural Alabama fifty miles from Montgomery, outside of a little town called Troy and I would see those signs that said “white waiting,” “colored waiting,” “white men,” “colored men,” “white women,” “colored women,” when I asked my mother, my father, my grandparents, my great-grandparents, “Why?” And they said “That’s the way it is. Don’t get in the way. Don’t get in trouble.” But I was inspired to get in the way, to get in trouble.

CARE, this unbelievable organization and all of the volunteers, you’ve been getting in trouble, good trouble, necessary trouble. It’s my understanding that some of you will be coming up to the Hill tomorrow to talk and you should get in a little trouble, really!

I’ve come to the conclusion that we shouldn’t spend more money to build more bombs and guns and missiles, that we need to use our limited resources to take care of basic human needs here at home and around the world and that’s what you have been doing. Thank you.

I want to take just a brief moment to thank your outgoing CEO and president Dr. Helene Gayle, who returned to Washington today after working here for many years as a resident at the Children Hospital National Medical Center, as the director for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the head of the Centers for Disease Control Washington Office.

I was inspired to get in the way, to get in trouble.

We as a community of citizens have been grateful and thankful for your brilliant and good work. You have helped protect the world from danger and disease and you use your talent to defend women and children from the violence that threatens them. Your expertise, not only as a physician, but as a public servant, has touched millions, who have slept easier, lived longer, and avoided the harsh consequences of disease and death because you have been there–so we thank you.

For those who admire your good work, especially those of us who live in Atlanta, and in communities around the world, thank you for what you have done and what you will continue to do. And I personally want to thank you for your friendship with my wife Lillian, who cherished the time you both spent together.

I want to also take a moment to welcome the incoming president and CEO Michelle Nunn.

I knew CARE was a smart organization, but I’m convinced now more than ever; you know I was getting ready to support Michelle in her next campaign, but you snapped her up before I had another chance.

She’s a wonderful and great choice. She’s a powerful advocate who will be able to communicate the urgent needs for action and the problems CARE wants to highlight. CARE, like under Helene Gayle, under Michelle Nunn will be a highlight, a headlight and not a taillight. She was the leader and head of Points of Light Foundation, and the HandsOn Network and I know you would be proud of her leadership here at CARE.

Carry the message, stand up, speak up, speak out!

I said to you tonight, I know you’re finished and I’m coming in very late, that you must never give up, you must never give in, you must keep your faith, and keep your eyes on the prize. Carry the message, stand up, speak up, speak out!

That’s what you’ve been doing. Continue to do it; and find a way to get in the way. There are too many people all over our world on this little planet on this spaceship that we call Earth, are depending on you for food, shelter, education for their minds.

As Dr. King said on one occasion, “We must learn to live together as brothers and sisters or we will perish as fools.”

If we can get it right just in some place, maybe it will serve as a model for the rest of humanity. We can do it. I know we can do it.

My first trip to Washington, D.C. was in 1961, 21 years old–had all my hair, a few pounds lighter–the same year that President Barrack Obama was born–there was something called a Freedom Ride. They said we couldn’t do it. We can’t bring down those signs, but we brought them down; you know that only place that our children and their children will see the signs in America will be in a book, in a museum, on a video.

So when someone tells me that change is impossible and that they cannot bring about change, I say, “Come and walk in my shoes.”

They told us that we wouldn’t win the right to vote by using the philosophy and the discipline of non-violence, but we did. We had a president by the name of Lyndon Johnson come to the Congress and introduced the Voting Rights Act and close that unbelievable speech with the words of the anthem of the Civil Rights Movement, when he said, “And we shall overcome.” We shall overcome, with CARE we will overcome.

Thank you very much.

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