A Civil Rights icon spoke directly to local students. This was his message.

Civil rights icon and Congressman John Lewis (D-Ga.) delivered a videotaped message to students, staff and members of the community who turned out at the 12th annual Rosa Parks Day event at the elementary school that bears her name in Middletown.

Lewis is the only speaker during Dr. Martin Luther King’s historic March on Washington who is alive. He also was a leader in the march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala. on March 7, 1965 in an effort to show the need for voting rights in the state.

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Middletown native Darren Brown, who graduated from Wilberfore University and now serves as an special assistant to the associate administrator for civil rights at the Federal Highway Administration, has spearheaded the Rosa Parks Day event.

Brown said he sat down with Lewis and told him about Middletown. He said that Lewis wanted to deliver a message to the kids and community at Rosa Parks Elementary School. Although some were disappointed Lewis couldn’t attend in person, they cheered loudly after his video message was played.

“Congratulations to each and every one of you for celebrating Rosa Parks Day,” Lewis said in his video message. “I knew Rosa Parks and I first met her when I was 17 years old and first heard about her when I was 15 and it changed my life.”

He said people often asked Parks why she got involved.

“She said, ‘I just want to help out.’ Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, ‘We all can make a contribution and help someone,’” Lewis noted in his message.

He said both Parks encouraged him to stand up for issues that are important after he met her in 1957.

“I have been standing up ever since,” Lewis said. “Dr. King said we can be great because we are all concerned.”

Lewis concluded by saying that, “we can leave our towns, our school and our neighborhoods better than we found them. Do your best and never give up or give in. Keep the faith, and, as Dr, King said, ‘Love is better than hate. Hate is a heavy burden to bear.’”

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Brown gave away more than $2,000 in cash awards to students who competed in an essay contest that carried the theme of this year’s event, “Are you an Eagle or a Chicken and Why?”

He thanked the school board, his former teacher and mentor, along with people in the community who are striving to make a difference.

“Every time I bless you all, I get blessed,” he told the students as the award winners were announced.

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