Alum Andrew Aydin ’02 on John Lewis, Superhero Catchphrases, and Continuing to Serve

Katie Maier

“Now,” he explains, “We think of ‘good trouble’ as being so ubiquitous with John Lewis, but at that time, it really wasn’t.”

“Once,” Lovett alumnus Andrew Aydin ’02, recalls, “I was in Justice Sotamayor’s office…and everyone went around saying what they did. I said I was Congressman Lewis’s digital director and policy advisor…she looked at me and said ‘Oh, you’re John Lewis’s nerd!’ And I said ‘wait till I show you our comic books!’”

I first met Mr. Aydin in Lovett’s Hendricks-Chenault Theater at a signing for March: Book Two, his second book collaboration with the late Civil Rights icon and U.S. Representative John Lewis. Over the years, I’ve heard so much about–and read–his wildly successful graphic novels about the Civil Rights movement and have always wanted to talk with him about his work as a writer and on Capitol Hill. This month, I was fortunate enough to sit down with him (virtually) to learn about the path he took to where he is today. 

Mr. Aydin’s career in politics and graphic novels has been greatly influenced by his time as a Lovett School student. He attended our school from fourth through twelfth grade on a partial scholarship, his single mom working hard to pay the remaining part of his tuition. 
It was tough for him to start Lovett in fourth grade, as it wasn’t an expansion year, and he continued to struggle throughout his time here because he didn’t have the same privileges that many of his peers had. 
“We were not one of the affluent families,” he recalls, “and in some ways, we paid a price for that.” He experienced the social obstacles that came with having his background, as well as frustration over a few incidents when the school seemed to take the word of his wealthier classmates over his. Fortunately, he had the support of teachers as well as peers who became lifelong friends. 
Mr. Aydin told me about several Lovett teachers who helped him develop the skills, passions, and confidence that allow him to succeed in his career today. His fifth-grade teacher, Ms. Ordover, particularly impacted him and his family early on when she said to his mom “I don’t think people understand exactly how smart he is.” Hearing this gave his mother the sense that the financial strain she was under in sending him to Lovett would be worth it in the long run. 
After finishing high school, Mr. Aydin attended Trinity College on a full-ride scholarship, and he started working in the Connecticut Lieutenant Governor’s office the day after his college graduation. 
He laughs as he recalls his first day in the real world. “My mother and grandmother showed up to my first day of work,” he says. “I can’t tell if that was to make sure that I was actually going to a job or if they just wanted to see me working in the state capital.” 
After a year and a half in Connecticut state politics, he decided that while he enjoyed what he did, he wanted to be closer to his mom. So when he found a posting for a job opening in John Lewis’s office, answering his mail and running his website, he applied. At the interview, he remembers instantly clicking with Congressman Lewis as they reflected on the Atlanta of the eighties and nineties, leading up to the 1996 Olympics. 
At the end of the interview, when Congressman Lewis asked if he had any more questions, Mr. Aydin said no, he didn’t. However, he did tell the Congressman that when he applied for jobs with other elected officials, his mother “sort of shrugged it off and said ‘I never heard of them.’ But when I told her I was interviewing for a job with you, my mother got very excited and said ‘oh he’s a good one.” Mr. Lewis gave him his iconic, sly, one-sided smile and said, “Well, you call your mother tonight and you tell her you got the job.”
That moment marked the beginning of the 13 years that Mr. Aydin would spend working for John Lewis in various roles. As his legislative correspondent, then his press secretary, then his campaign communications director, and finally his digital director and policy advisor, Mr. Aydin not only made significant contributions to John Lewis’s work in the House of Representative but also helped the Congressman get through an incredibly difficult time in his life. 
Mr. Aydin joined John Lewis’s team in 2007 in the midst of the 2008 Presidential Election campaigns. Early on in the election, Lewis had endorsed his colleague and friend, Hillary Clinton, for president, and while he later changed his endorsement and supported Barack Obama, he faced tremendous backlash for not supporting him from the start. Mr. Aydin said this was a low point in the Congressman’s life.

“People were openly calling for him to retire,” Mr. Aydin says. “They were questioning his commitment and asking ‘What have you done for us?’”

Mr. Aydin and the rest of John Lewis’s staff set out to answer this question by reminding the American people, especially young people, how much the Civil Rights icon has done for our country.

One strategy was inspired by Mr. Aydin’s childhood love for reading comic books. His videography teacher and academic team coach, Mr. Parker, let him hang out in his office in the library and read graphic novels. There, Mr. Aydin immersed himself in the colorful, action-packed worlds of comic books and embraced being a nerd. 

Reflecting upon his enthusiasm for comic books, Mr. Aydin had the idea to turn the story of real-life superhero John Lewis into a format that would really connect with young people. Trusting his young staff, John Lewis agreed to take part in what would become the March trilogy, a series of graphic novels about the Civil Rights Movement, told from his perspective as one of its leaders. Lewis and Aydin collaborated to write the stories, which were illustrated by artist Nate Powell. 

Mr. Aydin’s time at Lovett came in handy as he worked to make March a reality. He called on literary agent, and his close friend since fourth grade, Vaughn Shinall, who walked him through writing a book proposal, connected him with different publishers, and even helped him negotiate what would become the March publishing agreement. 

Now among the most widely taught graphic novels in the United States, the March books bring John Lewis’ work during the Civil Rights movement to the classroom in a creative and uniquely impactful way. Here at Lovett, March: Book One is part of the middle school curriculum, and I myself gained a new level of respect for John Lewis when I read the novel for a 7th grade English class. 

As he worked with John Lewis to write March: Book One, which was ultimately released in 2013, Mr. Aydin also developed another tool to “dramatize in an immediate way the history and the contributions that John Lewis had made as a younger person.” 

Without asking permission, Mr. Aydin got John Lewis on social media and started to stir things up by creating thought-provoking, and sometimes controversial posts. 

For example, on the anniversary of Lewis’s release from the Parchman Penitentiary, he tweeted out Lewis’ mugshot, along with the words: “53 yrs ago today I was released from Parchman Penitentiary after being arrested in Jackson for using "white" restroom.” Now famous and widely respected as a symbol of nonviolence, that picture would become one of the first viral tweets by a member of Congress and got young people talking about the Congressman’s invaluable role in the Civil Rights movement. 

As John Lewis’s social media gained massive attention and March: Book One was coming together, Aydin thought of one more way to complete the John Lewis superhero image: a hashtag. 

“Now,” he explains, “We think of ‘good trouble’ as being so ubiquitous with John Lewis, but at that time, it really wasn’t.”

John Lewis used to have a saying that went “my parents told me not to get in trouble, not to get in the way. But I got in the way. I got in trouble–good trouble, necessary trouble.”

The saying had been famous for many years, but it wasn’t until Aydin’s colleague, Leslie Small, put “John Lewis, getting in good trouble since 1960” on a 2012 campaign poster that “good trouble” became a standalone phrase. Seeing that poster inspired Mr. Aydin to launch the “good trouble” hashtag, #goodtrouble, in turn making it the iconic superhero catchphrase that Americans of all ages now associate with John Lewis. 

The great success of March provided Mr. Aydin with the platform to co-found the production company Good Trouble Productions alongside John-Miles Lewis, Kelly Sue Deconnick, Matt Fraction, Valentine DeLandro, and former Lovett classmate Vaughn Shinall. Through innovative projects like RUN, the sequel series to March, he says their company aims to tell “stories like [John Lewis’s] that haven’t received the attention that they deserved up to this point.” 

Congressman John Lewis died in 2020, and these stories have become an invaluable part of his enduring legacy, helping young people like me get to know who he was as a man and learn how we can strive to continue his work. 

“If we let John Lewis become some sort of corporately controlled symbol,” Mr. Aydin says, “it makes it impossible for us to realize that we, too, could be like him, that we have the ability and the capacity so long as we are persistent, consistent, and determined, that we can make a contribution just like John Lewis did.”

Mr. Aydin is excited to carry on John Lewis’s legacy through his storytelling and his involvement in Good Trouble Productions. When I ask him about his long-term goals for his career–whether he sees himself leaning more towards the political or comic books realms–he simply responds, “no idea, but I want to continue to serve.”

The Lovett School is an independent, coeducational day school where children from Kindergarten through Grade 12 find the courage to explore and the drive to discover.

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