Tybre Faw and John Lewis: How a 14-year-old’s life changed after meeting his hero
Crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge is a powerful experience for almost anyone familiar with the history of Bloody Sunday, a 1965 suffrage march in Selma, Alabama that was stopped by violent and racist soldiers.
Selma’s power is next level for young Tybre Faw.
It was there that he met his hero, John Lewis, four years ago, when he was just 10 years old. Lewis led the march in 1965 and nearly died after state troopers hit his skull with a baton.
« It’s emotional, » Tybre said as he crossed the legendary bridge last month. « Whenever I come to Selma or approach this bridge, I can still feel its presence. »
Tybre’s interest in the civil rights movement began after his elementary school performed a play about Martin Luther King Jr. and his teacher talked about a relative who had known King. After consulting books to learn more about King and other leaders of that era, he discovered Lewis. When Tybre realized that Lewis was then a congressman from Georgia, he became determined to meet him. In 2018, when Tybre learned that Lewis would be in Selma for Blood Sunday’s anniversary, he asked his grandmothers to take the seven-hour drive with him from his home in Tennessee.
« I wanted to meet him and just say thank you for fighting for my rights and the rights of many other people, » Tybre said of that first trip to Selma. The then 10-year-old boy didn’t even know if he was going to see Lewis that day. « I got way more than I wanted. »
We too were in Selma in March 2018, following Lewis on his annual civil rights pilgrimage to commemorate the anniversary of the march.
We spotted Tybre standing in the parking lot outside the church where Lewis was attending a service. He stood quietly, holding a handmade sign:
“Thank you, Rep. John Lewis. You showed me how to have courage, raw courage. Selma was the turning point.
Child travels 7 hours to see civil rights hero
It was striking how still this young boy had been, standing for so long, waiting for hours.
« I was serious then, » he recalled, « He’s your hero. You have to make a good impression. »
We brought him to the door that Lewis was to exit through, and when the congressman came out, he immediately noticed the boy, read his sign, and hugged him.
« Before I met him, I was standing off to the side and I was like, ‘Don’t cry. Don’t cry. Don’t cry.’ And I could feel my tears falling, and then when I saw it, I broke down, » Tybre explained. « It was powerful and moving. »
As Lewis and a large group of lawmakers, including future Vice President Kamala Harris, prepared to cross the bridge, Lewis motioned for the young boy to walk alongside him.
« I was so little, so the moment was really big, » Tybre recalled. « I [kept] thinking about what he did on that bridge and how he fought for my rights, and many more. It was just very overwhelming.
Their friendship lasted beyond that day in Selma. They stayed in touch and spent more time together.
« I got to see him as a friend and the relationship started to grow, » Tybre said. They had fun.
He once joined the Georgia Democrat on the floor of the United States House of Representatives and went with him to a football game at Benedict College. They talked often and Tybre remembers FaceTiming the congressman on his birthday. As a gift, he sent her a library card.
« One of the things that brought John Lewis to civil rights was he couldn’t go to the library and get a book because he was black. He couldn’t get a library card. We got so thought it would be a good gift for him,” Tybre explained.
Their special bond lasted beyond Lewis’s death in 2020.
Lewis’ family invited Tybre to read the poem « Invictus » at the congressman’s funeral. It was Lewis’ favorite.
Among the crowd of notable speakers, including three former presidents, was a 12-year-old boy. It said a lot about their relationship and how important it was for Lewis to pass on his hard-earned experiences and determination to younger generations.
« I walked through it and then I couldn’t hold it in anymore and the tears rolled down, but I was very proud of myself in that moment, » Tybre said of the funeral. « I felt strong and like he was right next to me when I did it. »
As a teenager, Lewis had reached out to his own civil rights icon – Martin Luther King Jr.
King took a particular interest in the young militant, just as Lewis did with Tybre more than 50 years later.
« I think that he [saw] that, and maybe that’s one of the reasons he took me under his wing,” Tybre said.
Their unforgettable story is chronicled in a new children’s book from Scholastic – « Because of You, John Lewis: The True Story of a Remarkable Friendship. » It captures Lewis’ impact on this young man, whose life was changed forever.
“He taught me honor and integrity. He taught me to be humble and to be a good student, to be a good person,” Tybre said.
And how to get into what Lewis called « good trouble ».
Tybre says that when he sees a bully on the playground, he thinks of Lewis’ famous phrase.
« Good trouble means you’re going to go out there and stand up for the other kid and fight for what’s right. And good trouble, for me, is to fight for what’s right, to stand out and express themselves, » he said.
It’s been two years since the congressman passed away, and although the two spent little time together, Lewis’ legacy lives on in Tybre.
« I never thought I would be so involved in the marches, and I just saw the world bigger. And my little corner wasn’t enough. It changed my whole life, » Tybre said.
At 14, he has already decided that he wants to run for office one day.
“I hope I can get into government and have a national voice so I can tell more people to get in good trouble and get more involved,” Tybre said. “I want to be in John Lewis’ shoes. I want to come into his office. If this is possible, that would be amazing.
Tybre is also a soccer player — he’s a lineman on both sides of the ball — and said most of his friends focus more on sports and pursuits other than history and civil rights. But he is trying to change that.
« My goal is for every child to know about John Lewis, his legacy and what he stands for, » he said. “Get in good trouble and follow in his footsteps. It’s my goal. »