Georgia Congressman John Lewis has fought and is still fighting the good fight to tear down the walls of discrimination and remove the modern-day impediments to voting for black people.

He is among the few remaining titans of the Civil Rights Movement. But his relevance did not end with the April 4, 1968, assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Lewis remained active in pushing the unfinished work of the movement and went on to the U.S. House of Representatives, where he has served since 1987.

That is why his announcement on Sunday that he has been diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer shocked many people across the political spectrum, and attracted a lot of well-wishers on social media praying for the civil rights hero to fully recover from the deadly disease.

While the nation is praying for Lewis, 79, as he begins cancer treatment, we have an obligation to ensure that the America he fought for that would guarantee and protect the rights of oppressed groups doesn’t slip away. Even at a time when the nation is so divided on partisan lines in an intolerant climate that has given rise to hate and bigotry, we owe it to Lewis and the other gallant soldiers of the 1950s and 1960s civil rights era to continue to ensure that this nation lives up to the ideals enshrined in the Declaration of Independence.

“Congressman Lewis is an inspiration,” says the Rev. Nicholas Hood III, senior pastor of Plymouth United Church of Christ. “He speaks with a moral clarity that you rarely see in politician today. The most important thing is for the present generation to be challenged by him, and for us to search our own hearts and souls and ask ourselves what is the right thing to do?”

Hood says Lewis’ courage in light of the brutality he suffered as a young civil rights activist stands out as his most enduring legacy.

“At some point we have to come back to that question: Am I courageous enough to stand and ask tough questions if it might affect my employment and personal relationships?” Hood asks. “Am I making a decision based on political expediency or courage? Unfortunately, we don’t ask those questions. I thank God that this present generation has the opportunity to be exposed to Congressman Lewis.”

Lewis was also known as a bridge builder and was one of the leaders of the black-Jewish coalition.

“He was a giant of justice and as pure a soul as I have ever seen in my life,” says Daniel B. Syme, rabbi emeritus at Temple Beth El, the oldest Jewish congregation in Michigan.

Syme, who was inducted into the Martin Luther King Jr. International Board of Preachers at Morehouse College in Atlanta, adds, “When Congressman Lewis stood on the floor of Congress and condemned the cruelty to children, his voice moves us further to protect the values for which he fought for. No matter what community you live in, his commitment is a clarion call for all of us who are privileged to live in America.”

Civil rights veteran Bernard Lafayette, who was appointed by King to serve as the national coordinator of the 1968 Poor People’s Campaign, the watershed moment of the civil rights movement, has nothing but praise for Lewis.

“Ever since I have known him (Lewis) when we were roommates in college at the American Baptist Theological Seminary in Nashville, Tennessee, he always took leadership roles,” Lafayette told me. 

“He has done a tremendous job in Congress speaking out and inspiring young people. He is well respected because he has integrity, fortitude and courage. He did not allow anything to intimidate him.”

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