#1742 Across That Bridge: Life Lessons and Vision for Change, Lewis, John, ISBN: 978-1-4013-2411-7, $24.00
Office of Student Success and Advising
Indiana University Kokomo
Before John Lewis was an elder statesman in the U.S. House of Representatives, he was a fiery young Civil Rights Activist, living through a time period our students often interpret as distant history. The book Across That Bridge: Life Lessons and Vision for Change is more than a memoir of those times; it is additionally a reflection of the values and beliefs that undergirded Lewis’s civil rights work. As he recounts, somewhat broadly in places, the events surrounding those turbulent and exciting times, Lewis challenges the reader to look beyond the actions themselves to the ideals that were the catalysts to the actions.
Because this book is not arranged chronologically, but by themes such as faith, study, and peace, Lewis easily connects past history to present political reality, such as his reminder that the Voting Rights Act was at the time of his writing under attack (p. 52). Lewis writes near sermons based on the broad themes, identifying and elaborating on not just the events of the Civil Rights Movement, but the moral and ethical basis behind the Movement. And yet, his detailed, first-person accounts of his experiences as a young Freedom Rider are a vivid reminder that the Civil Rights Movement was driven by the passion of young, idealistic people. The concrete recollections balance out the somewhat paternal advice that Lewis doles out as he describes the vision of Civil Rights leaders. Lewis’s recollection of his contact with John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, and of course, Martin Luther King, Jr., grounds the book in history while still maintaining its philosophical tone.
As a tool for advising in a time when we see racial tensions rising in an unexpected way, Lewis’s memoir offers sorely needed optimism. While he does not shy away from graphic and painful descriptions of the indignity of segregation and of the violence of the resistance to those who sought racial equality, underlying his narrative is always his deeply spiritual belief that it is possible for mankind to transcend the need to segregate by race. He fiercely defends non-violence as the only effective agent of social change against the perhaps understandable criticism of those who may not understand the depth and extent of discrimination in the pre-Civil Rights South. Lewis also devotes substantial time to his own childhood and young adulthood; his journey from farm boy to activist to congressman could be inspirational especially to first-generation students.
Across That Bridge was an inspiring read, even though it was somewhat devotional in nature. As a resource, it would be useful in helping students find the power in telling their own stories.