Dear John 5K supports Congressman Lewis


Anna Fedoorva

Participants begin the Dear John 5K on Feb. 15, 2020 in support of Congressman John Lewis’ cancer diagnosis.

Dana Richie and Anna Fedorova

Atlanta congressman and Civil Rights leader John Lewis announced his fight with stage 4 pancreatic cancer last December. When most people hear that a local hero is fighting a deadly illness, they feel sympathetic. Grady parent Boyd Baker, like Lewis, refuses to give up the fight, and thus the Dear John 5k was born. 

The Dear John 5k run was held on Feb. 15 and followed a route from Druid Hills along the Freedom Trail and ended by the Howard School in Old Fourth Ward. Baker intentionally planned this route through the 5th Congressional District that Lewis represents because it showcased one of Lewis’ many impacts on the city. 

“The route location is significant because a lot of people don’t know the story of the road battles of Atlanta where they were trying to put in highways through the Intown neighborhoods,” Baker said. “From the late 60s until the 90s, Intown neighborhoods were fighting to keep highways from crossing through our neighborhoods. Part of the reason we don’t have those is because neighbors found allies like John Lewis on the City Council who said these neighborhoods deserve their space and their land.”

 The purpose of the race was to celebrate Lewis’ legacy as a dedicated Civil Rights activist and Congressman as well as send him encouragement while he battles cancer. In addition to running, participants were encouraged to bring a letter, a “get well soon” card or an artistic note to send the congressman. Baker hopes the letters will remind Lewis how much Atlanta cares about him. 

“I’m just doing it for the cause and to bring people’s thoughts together for him,” Baker said. “I’ve been getting positive feedback from folks; hearing people excited, even if they can’t come out, they want to support it in some way. That really speaks to Mr. Lewis’ impact on Atlanta.”

One hundred runners supported the cause. Many people, like Karen Heim, who organizes the annual Inman Park Festival, attended because they know Baker personally and wanted to show support for Lewis.

“I’m a huge, huge fan of John Lewis,” Heim said. “John is always in the parade whenever he’s in town, and I’m here for him. I love the concept of Dear John.”

District 2 City Councilman Amir Farokhi came out to the race to talk to the runners and volunteers. 

“Everyone out here could have gone on a run by themselves — walked out the door, run three miles and gone on with their day— but we’re all here because we love Congressman Lewis, and he’s brought us together in ways much more important to this,” Farokhi said. “I think we all want to feel closer to him and support him. So we came out to be part of a community that loves Congressman Lewis as much as he has fought for us.”

Many Grady families attended to show their support for Lewis. Since Baker is a Grady parent, he used his connection to the Grady cluster to promote the race. 

“The Grady community is always very responsive,” Baker said. “They’ve been wonderful. A lot of the folks in this cluster especially have been to some of the other races we’ve done, so they’re already sort of in the social connection. They’ve been really great about spreading the word, too.”

Overall, Baker hopes this race showed participants there is always something you can do to improve bad circumstances such as Lewis’ cancer diagnosis. 

“Everybody can do something,” Baker said. “You can make a difference. Too often we just sit back and say, ‘I wish it were different,’ and we wait for something, for some movement.  But sometimes, your idea, whether it’s a potluck dinner with just a few friends to raise awareness or if you can scale it up, is worth trying. If it matters to you, you should act because it may not work out like you hope or it may not be a big success, but at least you’ll be able to say that you tried. You did something.”