July 27, 2020

Legacy of John Lewis lives on through the writers and poets of this D.C. nonprofit

Members of the Free Minds Book Club reflect on Lewis' courage and conviction and how it inspires their own fight for justice. Plus: Two stories of communities coming together during COVID-19.

Civil rights icon and Congressman John Lewis joined demonstrators at Black Lives Matter plaza in Washington, D.C. earlier this summer. An activist for social justice for nearly 60 years, Lewis died on July 17. Photo by Clay Banks/Unsplash

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Remembering John Lewis: While the country mourns the passing of civil rights icon John Lewis, one group of young adults is especially thankful for the Georgia Congressman’s tireless work—members of the Free Minds Book Club and Writing Workshop.

The Washington, D.C., nonprofit helps those who are currently and those who were formerly incarcerated develop literacy skills through book clubs and writing workshops. The nonprofit also offers workforce development and violence prevention programs. Rep. Lewis visited members of the program in a D.C. jail in 2016.

“He was inspiring, you know, because certain people in that position, you don’t think they would take time out of their day to come to a precinct—and you know—give us law about what they went through back in the day, about equal rights,” Free Minds member Donte Herring told WUSA 9.

Free Minds was one of five winners of the 2017 Renewal Awards. That same year, the nonprofit created the Congressman John Lewis Fellowship, which pays a formerly incarcerated person to promote nonviolence and racial equity through storytelling and poetry.

“I think nonviolence should be a priority, and men like Congressman John Lewis, he embodied those principles of nonviolent communication, humbleness,” Shannon Battle, who is the current fellow, told WUSA 9. “His selflessness motivates me and encourages me to want to be better, especially representing his name, because who he was embodied everything that was great about America.”

Making a hotel a home: Imagine falling ill without access to a bed, a bath, or even a hot meal. That’s the reality for many experiencing homelessness. Being sick without a home is made even worse by COVID-19, which requires distancing and isolation to prevent spreading it to others. That’s why the Phoenix nonprofit Circle the City is working with Maricopa County and other nonprofits to provide shelter in local hotels, as well as meals and medical care to those without housing who have COVID-19.

“I can tell you the hotel was just a hotel, but the people in it made it special,” Thomas Salts, a local man experiencing homelessness, told NPR. The nonprofit also offers resources to folks who are sick, but prefer to stay on the street—including a tent, masks, and hygienic supplies.

COVID-19 cases are on the rise in the Phoenix area, which has made work more difficult for organizations that help homeless individuals. “It’s been the Corona Coaster, someone called it the other day,” Lisa Glow, CEO of Central Arizona Shelter Services, told CNN. “You can’t even imagine the challenges (we have) as a mass shelter.”

Family and food: When one family came together, they helped an entire city come together. In March, when COVID-19 hit New York City, restaurants were forced to close.
Restaurant owner Luca Di Pietro and his daughter, college student Isabella Di Pietro, decided to take action. Together, they developed Feed the Frontlines, a platform to bring food deliveries to front-line workers across the city, while at the same time helping restaurants stay busy and open during the crisis. Luca was able to use his resources and connections in the restaurant industry, while Isabella worked with friends from school to get a website up and running.

As COVID-19 case numbers slowed in New York City, the family and their organization have pivoted to also help others facing food insecurity.

“We decided to really shift most of the work to people in need—the shelters and supported housing programs that have been serving people who have been most vulnerable in the city for a long time—and especially now as the virus poses a threat to them,” Isabella told Patch.

Since launching, the Di Pietro family and their platform have raised more than $1.7 million and delivered more than 130,000 restaurant meals to both essential workers and homeless shelters. Donate to Feed the Frontlines to buy a meal for a person in need, here.

Caitlin Fairchild

Caitlin Fairchild is the Deputy Editor of The Renewal Project.
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