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Because of You, John Lewis: How a Young Activist Inspired a New Children’s Book

Because of You, John Lewis: How a Young Activist Inspired a New Children's Book

When young Tybre Faw read Rep. John Lewis’s favorite poem, Invictus, at the civil rights icon’s July 2020 funeral, he captivated everyone watching — including bestselling author Andrea Davis Pinkney. Now, Faw’s unlikely friendship with the late Georgia representative is the subject of Pinkney’s new children’s book Because of You, John Lewis, which also explores Lewis’s relationship with Martin Luther King Jr. 

Faw was 10 in 2018 when he drove seven hours with his grandmothers from his home in Johnson City, Tennessee, to join his idol at a civil rights march in Selma, Alabama. The two stayed in touch and got together several times; after Lewis died, Faw was asked to read at his funeral.

When Faw first met Lewis, “I was in tears,” the now-14-year-old recalls to PEOPLE. “I told him why. And then he said, ‘Just make sure you keep straight A’s and be a good student and make sure you get in good trouble.’ Which I will always try to do in my entire life.”

“One of the key threads of the book is that John Lewis wanted to meet Martin Luther King Jr. more than anything,” Pinkney says. “He wrote a letter and they became friends. Tybre wanted to meet John Lewis. He reached out, went to Selma and they met. So it’s just amazing how history has repeated itself literally in every way. John Lewis met his civil rights hero, Tybre Faw met his and Tybre will be the hero for some other young person who’s coming up next.”

Because of You, John Lewis by Andrea Davis Pinkney Cover

Because of You, John Lewis by Andrea Davis Pinkney Cover
Credit: Scholastic

Of the book’s title, which references former president Barack Obama‘s words to the Congressman on his 2009 inauguration day, Pinkney said it was always the perfect fit. 

“It’s aspirational,” she says. “We can do this because the result of what you have done, and that will impact the work we continue to do.”

Pinkney says she hopes families use this book as a “tool” to teach their own kids: “Know that any child can wake up, can wish, can march toward a brighter tomorrow and follow in any footsteps they want.”

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As for Faw’s family, “I want every child in America to know who John Lewis is,” says his grandmother, Lauren Annarino. “I’ve never met a kinder man in my life — to have gone through all the trials and tribulations and trauma [he did], there is no way you could ever meet Congressman Lewis and not just fall in love with him. He changed our lives.”

Because of You, John Lewis by Andrea Davis Pinkney https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1ET2YrOEpz8aYegH7Llh-fPxxB9yGDPYw

Because of You, John Lewis by Andrea Davis Pinkney https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1ET2YrOEpz8aYegH7Llh-fPxxB9yGDPYw
Tybre Faw in Selma with John Lewis and Kamala Harris
| Credit: Courtesy Leigh Weaver

“I remember one of my grandmothers telling me I was carrying a torch after John Lewis,” says Faw, “and even if I don’t do anything with the torch, I just need to make sure it’s still up.”

That echoes how Pinkney, whose parents were civil rights activists, felt about her young subject. “Tybre’s story reminded me that right now there are kids on the sidewalks and streets making a change — the future civil rights heroes of tomorrow.”

In the future, Faw hints he aspires to serve in Congress. But for now, “I just keep carrying on John Lewis’s legacy and representing him,” Faw says, “because he fought for everybody’s rights.”

Because of You, John Lewis, with illustrations by Keith Henry Brown, is available now.