Gwinnett commemorates John Lewis Day with discussions

Gwinnett County celebrated the legacy of former Congressman John Lewis over more than two hours Monday, with panel discussions, poetry and song.

The inaugural event, to commemorate what would have been Lewis’ 81st birthday, was attended by about two dozen people and watched by more than 700 online, where it was streamed on Facebook Live. Organizers repeated Lewis’ plea to get into good trouble — necessary trouble — as they continue to work to combat racism and other societal ills.

“His work continues,” said Tuere Butler, a longtime Lewis staffer. “Get in the way. Get in good trouble.”

The program included the county’s health director, Audrey Arona, reminding people that Gwinnett had more coronavirus cases than anywhere else in the state. She implored people to continue social distancing, wearing masks and washing their hands — and to get vaccinated when they’re eligible.

“John Lewis would have stepped up to be an advocate for vaccine access,” Arona said.

Gwinnett’s Lewis celebration is particularly notable because former Commissioner Tommy Hunter was publicly reprimanded in 2017 after he posted derogatory comments and racist accusations against Lewis on his personal Facebook page. Hunter sued the county in response to the reprimand.

County Commissioner Marlene Fosque emceed two panel discussions about how to make good trouble and improve Gwinnett and other communities. The first featured Butler, Congresswoman Carolyn Bourdeaux (D-Suwanee) and Gwinnett County Commission Chairwoman Nicole Love Hendrickson.

All three agreed that there is more work to do to fulfill Lewis’ mission. Hendrickson said inequities like zoning laws and restrictive access continue to keep people from equal justice and opportunity.

“We have to speak out about those injustices and I think that is what good trouble is about,” she said. “It’s about speaking out about injustices no matter what the cost is.”

Such work improves society for all people, Bourdeaux said.

“Nobody is free until we are all free,” she said. “We need to recognize that we all want the same opportunity. We face different barriers to getting there.”

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