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John Lewis
John Lewis was an American civil rights leader and activist, a respected representative for Georgia’s fifth congressional district for over 30 years and a champion for reducing global inequalities. John Lewis introduced or sponsored at least 23 bills and resolutions that influenced U.S. foreign relations, humanitarian aid and advocacy. While some of his bills did not pass at the time, John Lewis’s globally-minded legislative style set a precedent for advocating for the world’s poor through legislative action.

Timeline of John Lewis’s Foreign Affairs Legislation

1999-2000

Under the Clinton Administration, John Lewis sponsored H.Con.Res.348. This resolution officially declared that Congress condemns the use of children as soldiers in any context. It provided guidelines on addressing the use of child soldiers, reintegration approaches for former child soldiers and incentives for foreign armies or organizations to dismantle exploitative child soldier systems.

2007-2008

Under the Bush Administration, Lewis sponsored H.R.2522, which defined modern-day slavery and enabled the government to better restrict it. Lewis’s bill called for a congressional commission to address the ways global modern-day slavery creeps into economic systems. The bill addressed how modern-day slavery targets vulnerable populations and requires intervention. This legislation would have also affected U.S. trade relations at the time, pressuring the government to halt trade with nations known to endorse modern-day slavery.

In 2008, Lewis introduced H.RES.1169. This resolution pushed the U.S. to advance its stance on eliminating discrimination and all forms of human or civil rights abuses. The resolution had both a domestic and international focus. It proposed to recommit several NGOs and governmental bodies that promoted equity.

2009-2010

Under the Obama Administration, Lewis reintroduced H.RES.1169 with slight wording changes. This resolution continued to advocate for the U.S. to step up as a global human rights leader. That same year, John Lewis also introduced H.R.3328 and H.Res.948. The first resolution called on the Secretary of State to collaborate with India in funding the Gandhi-King Scholarly Exchange Initiative, an educational and professional exchange program. While that bill did not pass, the other resolution officially endorsed the organizers and participants of the World March for Peace and Nonviolence.

After the U.N. General Assembly declared July 18 International Nelson Mandela Day, Lewis also introduced H.Res.1518. This resolution expressed the U.S.’s support for the U.N.’s action, which recognized Mandela’s progression of the nonviolent fight for equality under the law. This legislation also called on U.S. citizens to appreciate democracy, discourse and peace domestically.

2011-2016

Throughout the 112th, 113th and into the 114th congressional sessions, Lewis continued to introduce versions of his previous legislation. Lewis reintroduced H.Res.1518, regarding International Nelson Mandela Day, in 2011, 2013 and 2015. In those same years, John Lewis also restructured and then reintroduced what was originally H.RES.1169, regarding the U.S.’s commitment to protecting human rights globally. The new versions of the resolution maintained all components but did not specify to which conventions the U.S. must recommit, leaving room for expansion.

In 2011, 2013 and 2016, Lewis also reintroduced revised conditions for the Gandhi-King Scholarly Exchange Initiative bill. In 2016, Lewis introduced a new resolution, H.Con.Res.158, which focuses on the importance of U.S. citizens and government recognizing the 35th annual International Day of Peace.

2017-2018

This time, under the Trump Administration, John Lewis persisted through the 115th congressional session. Despite blockage from other congressional leaders on several bills, he reintroduced legislation centered on humanitarianism. In 2017, Lewis first reinstated recognition of International Nelson Mandela Day, then of the International Day of Peace. He lastly revised the bill intended to strengthen the Gandhi-King Scholarly Exchange Initiative.

2019-2020

In his last year serving, at the age of nearly 80, John Lewis continued to advocate and reintroduce globally-conscious legislation. Lewis again dedicated floor time to the Nelson Mandela International Day resolution, and then again to the International Day of Peace resolution. At the end of 2019, Lewis introduced a new resolution, H.R.5517. This bill had the same goals as the previous Gandhi-King Scholarly Exchange Initiative legislation Lewis introduced. However, Lewis amended the bill to include rhetoric affirming the altruistic intentions of the U.S. in collaboration with India. The 116th congressional session is still unfolding. This is an opportunity for other congressional leaders to pass the initiative Lewis pushed for over a decade.

Aside from his decades of success in public service and activism, John Lewis’s persistence in the congressional fight for global equity has paved the way for future lawmakers. John Lewis thought and acted as a global citizen. Despite setbacks and congressional stalemate, Lewis consistently and creatively committed the U.S. to the advancement of conditions for the world’s poor. Lewis leaves behind a legacy of care and compassion, ready for the next generation of American citizens and politicians to adopt.

Caledonia Strelow
Photo: Flickr

Nelson Mandela's ChildhoodNelson Mandela was a civil rights hero and arguably one of the greatest African leaders in history. He led a resistance movement, spent years behind bars unjustly and served as the president of South Africa. His life’s work was instrumental in abolishing apartheid and improving race relations. Not only was he a champion for justice and peace in his own country but also around the world. In 2009, the United Nations declared July 18th “International Nelson Mandela Day.” An examination of Nelson Mandela’s childhood contextualizes his legacy, both honoring and humanizing the man who contributed to the development of democracy and human rights around the globe. His young years are fascinating and enlightening as he exhibited leadership skills and spirit from an early age in his unique circumstances. Read on to discover the beginning of Mandela’s journey towards liberating millions.

Born into Royalty

On July 18th, 1918, Rolihlahla Mandela was born into the Thembu tribe in the small South African village of Mvezo, Transkei. Nelson’s birth name, Rolihlahla, is translated to mean “pulling branches off a tree.” His father, Gadla Henry Mphakanyiswa, served as chief of the tribe. His mother, Nosekeni Fanny, was Mphakanyiswa’s third of four wives. Collectively, the wives bore Mphankanyiswa nine daughters and four sons. Nelson Mandela was born into a powerful family that was devoted to serving and leading his community. He grew up listening to stories of his ancestors’ bravery in wars of resistance, planting the seeds of courage within him to continue the struggle of bringing his people into freedom.

When colonial authorities denied Mphakanyswa of his chief status, he moved his family to Qunu. When Mphakanyswa died from tuberculosis in 1928, Mandela was only nine years old. He was then put under the guardianship of a Thembu Regent, who raised him as his own son.

A New Name

Nelson Mandela was the first in his family to attend school. He excelled in his learning, and the schools he attended had a fundamental impact on Nelson Mandela’s childhood. At his primary school in Qunu, Rolihlahla’s teacher told him that he would be called “Nelson” from now on. This followed the tradition of giving schoolchildren “Christian names”. This given name would be adopted by Rolihlahla, becoming his lifelong moniker. He continued his education at a Methodist secondary school called the Clarkebury Boarding Institute and Healdtown. Throughout his time there, he performed well in boxing, running and academics.

In 1939, Mandela advanced to the prestigious University of Fort Hare. At the time, it was the sole Western-style higher learning institute for South African black people. The next year, Mandela, along with his fellow peers, was expelled for joining a student boycott against university policies. His lifelong advocacy for peaceful protests began here.

Fleeing to Johannesburg

Mandela returned home after being expelled from college and his guardian, Jongintaba, was furious. He threatened that if Mandela did not return to Fort Hare he would arrange a marriage for him. In response, Mandela decided to escape. He fled to Johannesburg and arrived in 1941. He first worked as a mine security officer, then as a law clerk and finally finished his bachelor’s degree through the University of South Africa. As he furthered his studies, he also started attending African National Congress (ANC) meetings against the advice of his employers. In 1943, he returned to Fort Hare to graduate. He furthered his education and expanded his worldview by studying law at the University of Witwatersrand and it was here that his interest in politics was heavily influenced. He met black and white activists and got involved with the movement against racial discrimination that he would continue for the rest of his life.

As Nelson Mandela’s commitment to politics and the ANC grew stronger, he participated in boycotts, strikes and other nonviolent forms of protest to oppose discriminatory policies. He opened South Africa’s first black law firm, which specialized in legal counsel to those harmed by apartheid legislation. He offered his legal counsel from a low cost to no cost at all. A long struggle was ahead of Mandela to achieve full citizenship, democracy, and liberty for his people. His journey began in his early years as Thembu royalty and in his academic work. Nelson Mandela’s childhood is only the first piece in the remarkable making of an international icon.

– Mia McKnight
Photo: Flickr