by Naomi Ishisaka
(This article was originally published in The Seattle Times and has been reprinted with permission.)
Protector. Community builder. Organizer. Entrepreneur.
These are just some of the words used to describe Elijah Lewis, whose life was tragically cut short by gun violence April 1.
Although he was just 23, Lewis had already made a bigger community impact than many of us make over a long lifetime. He championed an end to the terror of guns and violence. He built community through love and empowerment and, by doing so, helped to create spaces where peace could take root and grow.
In 2018, Lewis was just 18 when he spoke before thousands at the student-led Seattle March For Our Lives, demanding stricter gun laws.
Years later, those laws still have not significantly changed and, in a bitter irony, police say Lewis was killed after what should have been a “minor, inconsequential traffic misunderstanding” on Capitol Hill turned deadly when a gun was added to the mix.
A 35-year-old man was charged last week with second-degree murder and first-degree assault in the killing; Lewis’ 9-year-old nephew was also struck in the leg during the shooting. Lewis’ family said he was shot in the back while protecting the child. A GoFundMe was created to support the family.
Like the killing of Central District shop owner D’Vonne Pickett Jr. in October, Lewis’ death brought an outpouring of grief, pain, shock, and disbelief, coupled with determination to see his vision carried forward.
At a vigil the day after Lewis’ death, speaker after speaker implored the community to keep his mission alive.
TraeAnna Holiday, a community leader and host with Converge Media, said Lewis was one of the most “brilliant, dynamic souls” that the community had the privilege to know and love.
“It’s on us to be the example. What does it mean to love each other? Beyond ethnicity, beyond neighborhood, beyond proximity, beyond blood?” Holiday asked. “What does it mean to be one with us all? That’s what Elijah was exemplifying till his last breath.”
Since 2020, Lewis and other community leaders took that philosophy and turned it into a set of 17 principles they called The Covenant. As they described it, The Covenant is “focused on ending gun violence and supporting well-being in Black communities and families globally.” The principles are spread by Covenant ambassadors who also model them in their communities.
Some of the 17 principles include:
- We honor Sankofa, looking back to look forward.
- We understand that internal peace is our natural response to all challenges.
- We are all one; those who appear against us have yet to realize this truth.
- We resolve conflicts by implementing win-win solutions.
- We avoid doing ourselves harm by avoiding doing harm to others.
- We hold ourselves and each other accountable with integrity, respect, and discretion.
- We work together to protect our community.
Thanks to the work of Holiday and Converge Media, we have the privilege to hear from Lewis himself about his dreams for the future. In one of the series of videos he did with Converge over the past few years, Lewis spoke prophetically last April about what drove him to work on addressing gun violence.
“We have gone through a lot in the last five years. I have lost over 40 people, a lot of them due to gun violence,” Lewis said. “For me, this isn’t work, it’s community, it’s life, and it’s the life I live because I don’t have a choice. I love doing this for my community because what I’m doing actually saves lives.”
In a conversation with Holiday in October, Lewis said that while it can be easy to talk about what’s wrong in a community, it’s harder to look at solutions or possibilities. “I’m always encouraging people, because the more of us who are doing that, the better our world becomes,” he said.
Part of that encouragement is shining a light on the truth of our communities and people.
“It’s up to us to be able to showcase we are from South Seattle. We are not the narratives that people try to put on us,” Lewis said in June. “We are actually out here and we are uplifting our community and we are actually making opportunities for others to be able to come on and build those platforms — and we’re telling our stories.”
At Sunday’s vigil, Holiday challenged the audience to keep The Covenant principles alive. Not just for Lewis’ legacy, but for the future of our community as well. She said we all have a role to play.
“We can’t be passively living our lives watching life pass us by,” she said. “We have to engage. We have to activate that something within that moves us to connect with one another. We have to. We no longer have a choice.
“I beg you and encourage you to live as your best self — period. In all opportunities, in all situations, with all people, with all of your interactions and your responses. Let’s level up. Do not allow Elijah to be the only one. We all can do it. We all can do it, y’all.”
The South Seattle Emerald is committed to holding space for a variety of viewpoints within our community, with the understanding that differing perspectives do not negate mutual respect amongst community members.
The opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints expressed by the contributors on this website do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints of the Emerald or official policies of the Emerald.
Naomi Ishisaka is The Seattle Times’ assistant managing editor for diversity, inclusion, and staff development. Her column on race, culture, equity, and social justice appears weekly on Mondays. Contact her at NIshisaka@SeattleTimes.com or find her on Twitter @naomiishisaka.
📸 Featured Image: Although he was just 23, Elijah Lewis had already made a bigger community impact than many of us make over a long lifetime. He championed an end to the terror of guns and violence. He built community through love and empowerment and, by doing so, helped to create spaces where peace could take root and grow. (Photo: Zion Thomas)
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