Clyburn receives award named for John Lewis at March on Washington Film Festival's kickoff
© Greg Nash

The annual March on Washington Film Festival kicked off in D.C. on Thursday night with House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) receiving the John Robert Lewis Lifetime Legacy Award.

The 81-year-old lawmaker was recognized for his work advancing the “dignity of all humans” through championing rural economic development and elevating Black heritage at the opening gala for the five-day event, which was started in 2013 to commemorate the March on Washington’s 50th anniversary.

Clyburn had known Lewis, who died last year, for decades, meeting him as a college student in the midst of the Civil Rights movement before serving in Congress together for more than 17 years.

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John LewisJohn LewisWith extreme gerrymanders locking in, Biden needs to make democracy preservation job one Obama, Dave Chappelle nominated in same Grammy category Progressive groups urge Feinstein to back filibuster carve out for voting rights or resign MORE was very special to me,” Clyburn said. “I adopted the philosophy of non-violence as a tactic — John Lewis internalized it, and he became everything that philosophy is all about.”

Clyburn, who took the stage at Union Market's Dock5 to a standing ovation, said “much is left to be done” towards achieving racial justice, and that the award encouraged him to "renew" his lifelong commitment toward the cause.

“These kinds of events just remind me about what this journey is all about,” he told The Hill in an interview. “But I’m always quick to remember that it’s not a linear track.”

Presenting the award, Rep. Lauren UnderwoodLauren UnderwoodFive victories Democrats can be thankful for For Democrats it should be about votes, not megaphones Black Caucus emerges as winner in spending package MORE (D-Ill.) said Clyburn has been her “fierce ally” since she was first elected in 2018 as the youngest Black woman to serve in Congress.

“It was Whip Clyburn who provided invaluable guidance as I moved to my new role as a representative,” she said.

Underwood said Clyburn’s work elevating an inclusive history, including preserving buildings at historically Black colleges and universities, has shown that “good policy starts with good representation.”

She applauded his work “nurturing” Black leaders in Congress by convening meetings between the Congressional Black Caucus and top appropriators.

“Even now as an appropriator myself, I’m still putting those lessons into practice,” Underwood said.

The crowd also heard performances by urban jazz harmonicist Frédéric Yonnet, known for his work with Prince and Stevie Wonder, and the Shiloh Baptist Church Gospel Choir, featuring songs including "Oh Happy Day" and "This Little Light of Mine."