John Lewis Speaks About Graphic Novel in San Diego

Created: 28 September, 2018
Last update: 27 July, 2022

By Marielena Castellanos

Congressman and civil rights leader John Lewis stood before a large audience at the San Diego Civic Theatre last weekend with a message.

“Never give up, never give in, be bold, be courageous and find a way to get in what I call good trouble,” he said.

Lewis, who has been arrested more than 40 times as part of the civil rights movement and other causes including immigration, was in San Diego for a discussion about his book, “March: Book One,” the first of three graphic novels about his life and support for civil rights and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The first tome in the ‘March’ trilogy was selected for the One Book, One San Diego program, an initiative by public radio and television station KPBS, the San Diego County Library, and the San Diego Public Library which encourages all San Diego residents to read the same book.

“Sometimes I say during these unbelievable days in our country that we’re too quiet, we need to make a little noise,” the civil rights leader went on to say.

Tom Karlo, KPBS general manager, said this launch was “a season of firsts,” as the launch hosted over 2,000 people and “March: Book One,” is the first graphic novel to be chosen for the program’s adult book selection.
“Another first is to host a great American icon, civil rights leader, United States representative John Lewis,” Karlo added.

Misty Jones, founding partner of One Book, One San Diego and director of the San Diego Public Library, was also at the launch event. She explained how the graphic novel owes its existence to a comic book Congressman John Lewis read when he was young, the comic book titled, “Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Montgomery Story,” which was published in 1958.

Also invited to speak at the book launch was Alfonso Nunez, the executive director and founder of the non-profit Little Fish Comic Book Studio, which teaches the comic art form to students in San Diego.

Nunez grew up in North Park and said that social justice, equity, and equality have always been in comics.
Nunez said Superman, the very first superhero, debuted in 1938 and was not fighting Lex Luthor or invaders from outer space.

“Superman, in that very first comic 80 years ago, was fighting against domestic abuse and crooked, corrupt politicians,” he said.

He also talked about why Captain America was created. Nunez said he was created in 1941 because the creators were aware of atrocities being committed in Europe and they “created Captain America so they could, through the power of the comic art form, fight against it.”

Nunez added, “It’s worth noting, and seems inconceivable now, that when they created Captain America they were in fact met with death threats for having the audacity of creating a superhero involved in what was then seen as a European war, not a World War.”

Also in attendance was “March: Book One” coauthor and digital director and policy advisor for Congressman Lewis Andrew Aydin, who came up with the idea to do a book out of his upbringing reading comic books and as a means to teach the civil rights movement to new generations.

Aydin said, “The Southern Poverty Law Center describes teaching civil rights to two people and four words, Rosa Parks, Dr. King, and ‘I have a dream.’”

Nate Powell, who illustrated the book, also attended the event. Being an Arkansas native and having spent his school years in Montgomery, Alabama, said a lot of his time spent on the graphic novel was a reckoning of his entire lifetime.

He said reflecting these days, his parents, like many of their peers “sort of capped off a lot of this information with an exception or a dismissal, oh but that was a different time, that was way back there,” and added, “All these things didn’t add up because it seemed increasingly it was being put into that kind of dismissal, that kind of drawing a line of unreality, where these were two segments of history that did not have a thread that ran through it.”

“Understanding equality as being in everyone’s best interest that is a very dangerous idea to those in power,” Powell pointed out.

John Lewis
During his visit to San Diego, Congressman Lewis also met with students at San Diego’s Morse High School.
Congressman Lewis said the right to vote is precious, it is almost sacred, it is the most powerful nonviolent instrument, and he urged the crowd on election day, “Go out and vote like we never voted before.”

“Stand up, speak up. You can do it, we must do it, and we must save our country and save democracy,” Congressman Lewis added.

More than 100 events and film screenings were planned as part of the programming to explore the book. Below are just a few of the events organized around “March: Book One.”

What Would You March For: Sign Making Workshop, Thursday, September 20, 2018 at 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the Escondido Branch Library

‘Stand and Deliver’ Film Screening, Friday, September 28, 2018 at 3 p.m. at the Otay Mesa-Nestor Branch Library

Express Yourself: Button-Making Party, Tuesday, November 6, 2018 at 5 p.m. at the Otay Mesa-Nestor Branch Library

Express Yourself Civil Rights Poetry Slam & Book Discussion of ‘March: Book One,’ Monday, December 10, 2018 at 4 p.m. at the Otay Mesa-Nestor Branch Library