A Civil Rights Icon at the Flynn

Sep 9th, 2019

by Christopher Kaufman Ilstrup, Executive Director, Vermont Humanities 

When I came on board as the Executive Director of Vermont Humanities about a year ago, one of the wonderful moments that I looked forward to was bringing Congressman John Lewis to Vermont as part of our Vermont Reads program. Each year we invite all Vermonters to read the same book and participate in a wide variety of community activities related to the book’s themes. This year, communities across Vermont have been reading March: Book One by Congressman Lewis, with Andrew Aydin and artist Nate Powell. It’s the first graphic novel that we have selected in the 17-year history of Vermont Reads.

As a past Flynn staffer, I was delighted to bring this opportunity to collaborate on Vermont Reads to my former colleagues at the Flynn. When I presented the idea to the Flynn’s Anna Marie Gewirtz and Steve MacQueen, they were thrilled, with Steve calling the Congressman perhaps “our greatest living American.” Vermont Humanities is honored to welcome Congressman John Lewis and his co-author, Andrew Aydin, to the Flynn MainStage on Monday, October 7 at 7 pm.

Lewis was chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and was considered one of the “Big Six” leaders of the civil rights movement. He has served in the US Congress since 1987 and was awarded the Medal of Freedom by President Obama in 2011.

Almost sixty years ago, Martin Luther King, Jr. edited a 16-page comic book about the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Distributed by hand in churches, schools, and nonviolence workshops, it dramatized the fledgling movement and its tactics to a generation of future leaders, including a young John Lewis. Today, the March Trilogy team is continuing that legacy, using comics to educate and inspire a new generation of civil rights activists.

It’s fitting that Lewis and Aydin will come to the Flynn Center for the culmination of the Vermont Reads 2019 program, as we launched the program at the Flynn in early February at the Vermont Youth Orchestra’s Reflections on a Dream winter concert, honoring the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Since that kickoff performance, libraries, schools, and community groups in over 80 Vermont towns have hosted book discussions, cartooning workshops, and film screenings related to March: Book One. Students have researched the history of nonviolent protest, and created artwork based on what they have learned; an organizer for the SNCC from 1962-1965 spoke at the Jeudevine Memorial Library in Hardwick; the Norwich Public Library led a Social Justice Sing-Along for families; and Marlboro College professor William Edelglass gave a presentation at the Waterbury Public Library on the history of race as a concept, followed by a robust post-presentation conversation.

When we chose March: Book One for Vermont Reads 2019, we hoped that readers would be inspired to keep learning about, exploring, reading, and discussing this seminal time in our country’s history. We also hoped that Vermonters would find connections between that era and the struggles for equality and justice that continue today. We’ve been deeply grateful to see community groups both enjoy the book and wrestle deeply with its themes, in ways that we hope will lead to continued reflection, discussion, and action. We are thrilled that the Flynn Center is helping us bring that conversation to even more Vermonters.

If you are unable to secure tickets—or otherwise unable to attend the performance in person—watch a live stream of the talk on vermonthumanities.org.

Filed in: Education  Interviews 

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