From Linda Peak, a board member of the East Meck High School Foundation:
The most powerful speech in Charlotte during the DNC was not delivered on the stage of Time Warner Cable Arena. With little publicity, no TV crews, no teleprompters and no political pundits, the most powerful and perhaps most influential speech was delivered on the 60-year-old stage of East Meck High School off Monroe Road. The auditorium was filled with teenagers from East Meck and Charlotte Latin who could have no way of knowing the lasting impact the speaker would have on their young lives.
As John Lewis took the stage, a hush fell over the auditorium and for the next 30 minutes, the young minds were captivated. Many had never heard of the Georgia congressman but when he spoke there was a recognition in the room. A recognition that they should listen, that his words were true and important and that they were in the presence of history.
In a commanding voice that reverberated throughout the hall, John Lewis told the young audience how, as a young man, he would come to meet Martin Luther King Jr. and become a disciple of the non-violence movement. He spoke of a time when blacks were not allowed to drink from the same water fountains as whites, not allowed to sit in theaters with whites and not allowed to attend the same schools.
At only 23, he was the youngest speaker at the March on Washington and today, the only survivor of the 10 speakers to speak on the Lincoln Memorial steps that day in August 1963. He told them of the struggle, the beatings and the redemption of a country that followed the civil rights movement. He challenged them to stand in the way of injustice. He reminded them of their own place in history and their own duty to fight against discrimination of any kind. Most importantly, he urged them to protect individual voting rights, the right he fought so hard to win and a right now threatened by voter ID laws. As students filed out of the auditorium, many wiped away tears.
While speaker after speaker at the DNC spoke of the value of improving our education system, an important lesson in history was being taught at East Meck. And while there was almost no media coverage of the event, Charlotte city leaders recognized the significance of John Lewis speaking to students and took time out from DNC events. Among those joining him on stage were Mayor Anthony Foxx, Harvey Gantt and Jennifer Roberts. Also on stage were members of the Board of Education, new superintendent Heath Morrison, East Meck Foundation Director Joan OBrien, Principle Rick Parker and teacher Larry Bosc. For more than 10 years, Bosc has taken students from East Meck and Charlotte Latin on his Civil Rights Tour to visit important sites of the struggle. The East Meck Foundation, which arranged for Mr. Lewis to come to East Meck, also helps support the tour.
Regrettably, one of the most important speeches of the week will not be seen on TV or YouTube. But thankfully, a small group of those that needed to hear it most did hear it. John Lewis understands the importance of education and the importance of his personal story. He took time out from the DNC because he knows it is the young people who must hear his story so we never forget.