Our nation, and the entire world, lost a giant with the passing of Congressman John Lewis. I was blessed to serve with him in Congress for many years. He was not just a colleague. He was a mentor, a friend and an inspiration to me. The memories I made with him, and the values he taught will continue to guide me for the rest of my life.
I’ll never forget the day 10 years ago when Congress was poised to pass the Affordable Care Act. Congressman Lewis and I, as well as several other lawmakers, walked through an angry and physically aggressive group of protesters who came to Washington, D.C., to oppose the health care law. Many hurled insults and racial epithets at us, but Congressman Lewis — himself no stranger to these acts of hate — remained steadfast and determined to go cast his vote.
His resilience in the face of such bigotry and potential violence that day, and throughout his life, continues to motivate our fight for equality. The bravery he showed, and our eventual passage of the Affordable Care Act, also reminds us that fighting for justice in our health care system remains a key part of achieving the “Beloved Community” Congressman Lewis and his mentor, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., spent their lives working to build.
Congressman Lewis’ short but courageous battle with pancreatic cancer further reveals that we still have a lot of work to do to achieve greater equity in health care. Pancreatic cancer is extremely deadly. It is the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths in this country, and it disproportionately affects people of color. This disease becomes significantly less deadly the earlier you catch it. Yet pancreatic cancer still has no dedicated early detection initiative. Therefore, no test exists to detect this form of cancer early. That is a clear injustice we must fight.
I’m working hard to fill this gap in medical research. Earlier this month, the House adopted my amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that will authorize $5 million for a pancreatic cancer early detection initiative (EDI) at the Department of Defense (DoD). The provision will provide critical funding needed for more research and an early detection initiative (EDI) under the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs (CDMRP) at DoD. This amendment will empower America’s researchers to find new ways to detect pancreatic cancer early, which will help to make this disease less deadly and lessen disparities in care.
I introduced this amendment in honor of Congressman Lewis and another congressional colleague, Rep. Alcee Hastings from Florida, who is also battling pancreatic cancer. I want both of them, and all who have suffered from this illness, to know that we won’t stand by and let this cancer claim more lives without a fight.
This provision is also another way to reaffirm that Black lives matter. At a time when our country is having a national conversation about the persistent inequalities in access to health care for Black and brown people during a global pandemic, Congress must do everything within our power to improve health outcomes through research and treatment. Providing dedicated funding for early detection research at DoD will help fill a critical gap in pancreatic cancer research and will help address the pancreatic cancer disparities for communities of color.
I am inspired to build on the legacy of Congressman Lewis, and I hope you will work with me to create “The Beloved Community” he envisioned. He never stopped fighting, and getting into what he called “good trouble, necessary trouble.” He knew the struggle to achieve equality for everyone is far from over, and we must “keep our eyes on the prize!” Though he is no longer with us, we should celebrate his incredible life, and be thankful that he left a blueprint that shows us how to continue moving forward as a society and toward a more perfect union. I know he will always be with us on this journey.
Rep. Carson represents the 7th District of Indiana. He is a member of the Congressional Black Caucus and one of three Muslims in Congress. Rep. Carson sits on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the House Intelligence Committee, where he is chairman of the Subcommittee on Counterterrorism, Counterintelligence and Counterproliferation. Contact Rep. Carson at carson.house.gov/contact.