By Ukee Washington

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — On the eve of the nation saying its final goodbye to the civil rights icon, so much of Rep. John Lewis is staying with us — not only to help us through the unrest currently happening but also how to build for the future.

In 2016, I sat down with Lewis when he visited Philadelphia. He had a message then that truly stands up now, a message he wanted all to hear.

Four years later, after battling late-stage pancreatic cancer, we are celebrating the life of the 17-term congressman. Even at the age of 76, he was still at the forefront leading the charge against racial injustice and police brutality.

He offered these thoughts on the visual message athletes were displaying then and now.

“I not only approve what they are doing, but I think they are doing what is good, what is necessary. Their protest is protected by the Constitution, by the First Amendment. Some people may not like what they are doing, but they are standing up by kneeling and speaking up by speaking out,” Lewis said.

Which he always did.

At the age of 23, Lewis was the youngest speaker at the 1963 March on Washington, where the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech.

Lewis made it his dream, his life mission, to speak out on racial inequality.

The Selma to Montgomery, Alabama marches in 1965 were organized by Lewis and other prominent non-violent activists to demonstrate the desire of Black Americans to exercise a constitutional right to vote. They got as far as the foot off the Edmond Pettus Bridge and were stopped by Alabama state troopers.

Two weeks after that attack, known as “Bloody Sunday,” Lewis and hundreds more, including Dr. King, completed the march.

This week, the body of the late congressman was escorted by Alabama state troopers to cross that bridge one last time.

Lewis was known as the conscience of the Congress, a genuine American hero.

Lewis encouraged our youth to get into “good trouble,” saying the younger generation especially has to lead the way.

“They will lead us to a better place, they will lead us to higher ground,” Lewis said.

CBS3 will bring you complete coverage of Lewis’ funeral Thursday in Atlanta at Ebenezer Baptist Church.

Ukee Washington