"Stages of Freedom co-founder and executive director Ray Rickman met John Lewis in 1966.
“I was 16, he was probably 26 or 27,” Rickman said.
It was three years after the March on Washington and less than a year after the march from Selma to Montgomery.
Lewis was teaching a safety class ahead of the March against Fear from Tennessee to Mississippi.
“When he told you how to duck and roll and protect your head, all the things you need to l not to fight back, the rule was no matter what they did to you, if you fought back, they'd probably kill you,” Rickman said. “It was an incredible training session with John Lewis.”
Rickman said the session may have saved his life.
“They all but killed me; they cracked my skull. I ended up in the hospital in Tennessee,” Rickman said. “I thought about it several times right then. John Lewis may have been part of saving my life."
Rickman continued to fight for social justice and went on to serve as Rhode Island’s Deputy Secretary of State and a state representative. Lewis took his fight to Congress.
“You’re just in the presence of this extraordinary hero,” said Democratic Rep. David Cicilline.
The Congressman said he organized the 25-hour sit-in with Lewis and witnessed Lewis continue to play a major role in fighting for social justice.
“He played a really important role in the passage of the Equality Act,” Cicilline said.
The Rhode Island representative said he will always remember their friendship.
“He called it getting into good trouble; you had to get into good trouble to cause trouble to advance the cause of equality and justice,” Cicilline said.
Rickman, a lifelong civil rights advocate, said he is heartbroken Lewis will not be here as the country moves into what he calls a “new civil rights era.”
“I hope I'm a little like John Lewis, in that I care deeply and I want to see a brand new world,” Rickman said. “I really do."
Rickman and Cicilline said they support the push to rename the Edmund Pettus Bridge after Lewis."