Brief encounter, lasting impact: NC judge remembers Rep. John Lewis

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RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – If your mom tells you to do something, you do it.

When Judge Chris Brook was in law school at UNC-Chapel Hill, he informed his mother that civil rights leader John Lewis was coming to speak. She had one request.

“She said, ‘You have to tell him he’s my hero. You have to do that for me,'” Brook remembered. “His response to me really spoke volumes about who he was and his humility. He first said, ‘You know, please tell your mother thank you for me,’ but then he also said there are a lot of heroes out there.”

That conversation took place as Brook, who now sits on the North Carolina Court of Appeals, sat next to Lewis during lunch.

North Carolina Court of Appeals Judge Chris Brook.

“And suffice it to say I was both awestruck in the moment and it made a huge impression on me going forward,” Brook said.

“It underlined for me how courageous he was. I’m not the world’s biggest guy. I’m pretty average-sized. Congressman Lewis was a lot smaller than me, a lot shorter than me, and you kind of get that from photos of him. And you can see that from photos of him on the Edmund Pettus Bridge. So, very real physical courage that it took to stand up for what was right, but also to the people who wanted to do him harm. I think that puts and always has put things into perspective for me. There’s probably not a challenge that many of us are going to face that’s going to be greater than that.”

“The other thing I took away from him was just an unbelievable and ongoing sense of optimism. He saw people not act their best often times acting their worst. That could’ve made him very cynical that could’ve made him pessimistic about other people about our nation and it never did. He continued to put his shoulder to the wheel fighting for justice on a day in day out basis.”

Lewis’ passing, Brook said, comes at a time when we need his moral clarity. Still, the civil rights icon’s approach to life is something all can strive for.

“If he can remain optimistic, I think that’s a lesson we can all carry forward,” Brook said. “We’re all going to have challenging days and difficult days, but even then, in the face of the challenges, we can come back the next day optimistic that things can be better and that we can play a role in making things better.”

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