Congressman John Lewis visits campus

Congressman John Lewis speaks in Memorial Auditorium. Photo by Bailey Hovland.

The creators of the “March” graphic novel trilogy visited Concordia College on Tuesday, Oct. 17, for a convocation, book signing, and lunch with students.

The series, co-authored by Andrew Aydin and Congressman John Lewis and illustrated by Nate Powell, chronicles Lewis’ life as an integral member of the civil rights movement. The three created “March” hoping to inspire change, and they discussed the importance of peaceful protest and having a role in civil rights during the convocation on Tuesday. Each creator spoke about his own experience in creating the book and the inspiration to create change.

From 1963 to 1966, Lewis chaired the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, which encouraged students to protest segregation and rally for voting rights. He was the leader of the voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery and became close to Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. He now represents the 5th district of Georgia.

“‘March’ will tell you we have a right to protest for what is right,” Lewis said.

At the convocation, Lewis said everyone has a role to play, and that everyone must use what they have to bring about peaceful revolution.

“This is the power of the way of peace … the power of the way of love,” he said.

Aydin, the co-author of “March,” was raised in Georgia by a single mother. He had always been interested in comic books, and after becoming involved in Congressman Lewis’ campaign, he urged Lewis to write a comic book about the civil rights movement to reach young people. Lewis agreed on one condition.

“I kept asking and kept asking and he said ‘okay, if you write it with me,’” Aydin said.

Powell entered the picture more than three years later. He was raised in Arkansas and started working with Lewis and Aydin after a Dragoncon convention brought Lewis and Aydin to a publisher, and Powell was encouraged to send them samples. Since then, he has worked with them on all three of the “March” books.

The third installment in the “March” series won a National Book Award last November and was chosen as the first-year students’ summer book read this year. Amanda Pieters, assistant director of orientation and First-Year Transition programming, said there were three main reasons “March” was chosen as the summer book read.

“When we look at summer book reads, we want them to be engaging to read regardless of past reading experience,” Pieters said. “Second, ‘March’ felt relevant to our diversity initiative, and lastly we thought it could provide rich conversation that all disciplines can relate to, think about, and talk about.”

Getting the creators of the “March” trilogy on campus was no easy feat. Tracey Moorhead, Concordia’s chief of staff and an organizer for the event, said the college tried to get them on campus last year for the National Book Awards event, but Lewis was too busy with his legislative duties to make it. Several days after Moorhead first contacted Lewis, Aydin reached out to her about visiting this fall. Moorhead readily accepted.

“This book is important because Senator John Lewis lived that experience,” Moorhead said. “It sends a message to young students that it is vitally important that they understand history and the importance of nonviolent protest.”

Besides Concordia students, around 250 high school students from eight area schools also attended convocation. Laura Probst, director of the Carl B. Ylvisaker library, coordinated the invitation to schools and planning around the students.

“We sent out a broad invitation, and eight schools accepted,” Probst said. “This will be a great experience for the students and I’m very pleased with the response.”

After the convocation, students were invited to have their books signed by each of the creators, and Aydin and Powell attended a lunch with members of the Credo honors program to have further discussion. Conversation started around tables with the creators, then moved to a panel discussion. Both Aydin and Powell had thoughts on how to get involved against policies that can turn over civil rights.

“This is why education matters,” Aydin said. “History matters for the context of what’s around us.”

Powell voiced concern about using social media as a platform to discuss current events.

“If we use screens to get news and share news, it doesn’t mean we are addressing the problem,” he said.

Aydin also addressed the obstacles he has faced in expanding the book for a more global audience.

“A lot of countries view this book as an American history story,” he said. “That’s a hurdle, because if we don’t even teach American history here, why should we expect it to be taught in other countries?”

“March” has proven its ability to inspire change in others on at least one occasion. Lewis told a story about he and his white seatmate getting beat on a bus and left unconscious. Decades later, a man came to his office, and told him he was one of the ones who beat him on the bus that day, asking for forgiveness.

“We hugged … and we cried together,” Lewis said.

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