“If you don't do everything you can to change things, then they will remain the same.” – Rep. John Robert Lewis
Dallas County’s Sheriff Jim Clark wore a gun on one hip, a billy club on the other and held an electric cattle prod that he used to deny demonstrators access to the Selma Courthouse where they might register to vote. But, it was the pin he wore on his lapel that was most telling, with the simple word, “Never.” Today is just like 1964 in that the forces of the status quo are forever relentless. They continuously encourage us that the past was much worse, and tell us to accept today’s imperfect because we’ll address it tomorrow.
Instead, we must rally the courage to confront today’s injustice, and refuse today’s “Jim Clark.” In 2013, Rep. Lewis was arrested for the 45th time. Many of these arrests involved his stands against segregated restrooms, lunch counters and interstate bus terminals and for voting rights in the 1960s. However, over subsequent decades, he would confront apartheid in South Africa, genocide in Darfur and become a frequent marcher in Atlanta’s LGBTQ Pride Parade. And, he saw the 2020 “moment” we’re now living in with global protests against racial inequality and police brutality as the extension of his life’s work.
And, we have much work to do in mental health care and suicide prevention, too. In August 2020, we joined with leaders from around the world in publishing an international declaration and call to action for better crisis care. In the US, a person who reaches out for help on their worst day is likely to experience one or both of the following: an inhumane detainment in a hospital emergency department and/or police engagement at their door. Abuses are common. People in pain may be first shackled by law enforcement during transport and again by hospital staff while awaiting care.
When President Obama presented Rep. Lewis with the Congressional Medal of Freedom in 2011, he described his courage as “an American who knew that change could not wait for some other person or some other time; whose life is a lesson in the fierce urgency of now.”
David is CEO and President of RI International. He’s a behavioral health innovator, entrepreneur, and storyteller, and the creator of HopeInc.com.