After six months and three days of theatre closures, the Denver Center for the Performing Arts finally had an audience. It felt good.
But more than that, it felt extremely timely, relevant and important. The DCPA held a small, socially-distanced film screening of the documentary, John Lewis: Good Trouble. An invited audience of nearly 50 community leaders gathered in the spacious Seawell Ballroom for the 96-minute film about the late civil rights activist and Congressional Representative.
DCPA Education and Community Engagement Executive Director Allison Watrous greeted the crowd before introducing Denver Mayor Michael Hancock. Having met Lewis, Mayor Hancock was able to share personal recollections with the guests who represented the City of Denver, Denver Arts & Venues, Denver Public Library, Diversity Internship of the Arts, Latino Community Foundation of Colorado, the Mexican Cultural Center, Opening Act and Phamaly. The evening then shifted to the compelling documentary, which chronicled his life, his work and his influence on our nation.
Despite his mother’s concerns over his safety, Lewis was called into action over the injustice he saw all around him. “When you see something that is not right, that is not fair, not just, you have to speak up,” Lewis said on numerous occasions. “You have to say something; you have to do something. Get in good trouble.”
And he did just that. Throughout the 1960s he was arrested 40 times, plus another “five times while I was in Congress.” He explained his persistence in the face of adversity by saying, “When you lose your sense of fear, you’re free.”
Whether it was the March on Washington or a lunch counter sit-in or crossing the bridge from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, he encouraged his fellow activists. “Sometimes by sitting down or sitting in, you’re really standing up.”
Despite being threatened, jailed and beaten, Lewis continued on. In the film he explained his approach to peaceful protest by quoting his contemporary, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: “We will meet your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We will meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will. And we shall continue to love you.”
Soon, sitting down and sitting in was no longer enough. In 1986, he ran for the U.S. House of Representatives where he served 17 terms until his death on July 17, 2020. In speech after speech, Lewis reminded audiences that the “vote is the most powerful nonviolent tool we have to create a more perfect union.”
Crowds flocked to him. Walking down the street or through an airport was, in the words of one aide, “tedious” as he was stopped repeatedly with words of gratitude, support, admiration and praise.
Which was exactly the response of the guests at the film screening — gratitude for his leadership, support for his civil rights activism, admiration for his tenacity and praise for his accomplishments on behalf of equality.
This month, nonprofit organizations nationwide are inviting their members to rent John Lewis: Good Trouble and participate in a live panel discussion with Dawn Porter, the film’s director; Ras J. Baraka, Mayor of Newark, NJ; Khalil Gibran Muhammad, Professor of History, Race and Public Policy at Harvard Kennedy School and Director of the Institutional Antiracism and Accountability Project, and Lonnie G. Bunch III, Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution — who worked extensively with Lewis to establish the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture.
DCPA audiences can rent the film from Magnolia Pictures then take part in the live virtual conversation at 5pm MST on Monday, September 21 on Zoom. The film’s rental fee, $12, includes a $5 donation to the Denver Center for the Performing Arts.