Credit union leaders reflect on life of longtime civil rights leader

lewis with groupAs the nation mourns the loss of a civil rights giant, Congressman John Lewis, we are also reflecting on his prodigious life. Every day this week, we’ll share insight from some of our affiliated CEOs in Georgia who had the honor of meeting and working with Congressman Lewis.

The inspiration to become a civil rights activist began at a young age for Congressman John Lewis. Lewis committed to changing the country. He didn’t give up the fight, even after being arrested for his participation in civil rights awareness and not even after being beaten during the Freedom Ride. With his passing, his legacy will continue.

“From a young child, Congressman John Lewis was destined to be a great man. The character of a man is displayed in how he treats his fellow man and Congressman Lewis treated people with kindness. Regardless of his incredible achievements, he remained unchanged. From the first time I was privileged to meet Congressman John Lewis until the last meeting decades later, I recall his welcoming demeanor. I remember those conversations as if we were sitting at the family kitchen table. Congressman Lewis will not only be remembered as a civil rights icon but as a gentle spirit and humble, compassionate person who believed in people helping people. His philosophy naturally aligned him with the credit union movement, ensuring all citizens had access to affordable financial products and services. We are truly grateful for his strong support of credit unions. Our country, our state, our community – including our credit union community – have lost a true friend but his legacy will live for generations to come. As we mourn the loss of Congressman Lewis, we offer our condolences and prayers to his family and friends.”

– Debbie Smith
President/CEO, Georgia United Credit Union 

“Congressman Lewis was an exemplary leader whose commitment to human rights and public service transcended politics. He will be rightfully remembered for his courageous and lifelong activism within the Civil Rights movement, including his role as an original Freedom Rider and in helping to organize both the March on Washington in 1963 and the Selma to Montgomery marches in 1965. During the past 32 years, many Georgia credit union professionals had the privilege of getting to know Congressman Lewis on a more personal basis through legislative visits to both his offices in Atlanta and Washington, D.C. Anyone who met Congressman Lewis quickly realized that beyond the legend there was a truly humble, caring and intelligent man driven by a desire to do good for others.”

-Hank Halter
CEO, Delta Community Credit Union

“I was so saddened to hear of Rep. John Lewis’ passing on Friday.  He was a fighter with a kind and determined voice. I had the honor of meeting him in his congressional office during visits with the Georgia CU delegation. During that first meeting, I wasn’t sure what it would be like. Will Rep. Lewis be quick to dismiss our needs and values, like other congressmen that we had already visited? Will he talk more about himself than about the issues at hand? All of my doubts were erased when he walked into the office where we were waiting. He greeted each person with a handshake, a look into their eyes and a sincere gesture of welcome. The warmth and genuine kindness he shown touched us all. What you could feel in the room was a mutual respect for each other as we discussed so many topics and as he gave a mini history lesson guided by the all of the civil rights memorabilia displayed on his walls.  Those walls!  Each time I went to that office, I looked at everything I could, knowing each item had meaning and each item told a story, and sometimes the stories came directly from him.

“Mr. Lewis did not boast or preach.  Mr. Lewis spoke truth.  Truth we need to continue to hear. Rep Lewis loved CU’s and what they stood for.  I am grateful for his support of our movement.”

– Denise Swan,
CEO, Go Energy Financial Credit Union

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The League of Southeastern Credit Unions & Affiliates represents nearly 300 credit unions throughout Alabama, Florida, and Georgia. It has a combined total of almost $200 billion in assets and 12.4 million members. LSCU provides advocacy, compliance services, education and training, cooperative initiatives, and communications.

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