Reverend Leah Lewis, J.D., grew up in one of the first African American families on her block in pre-white-flight Cleveland Heights, Ohio — but lived her first decade blissfully unaware of the racism that had shaped and was shaping her country. Her family welcomed in friends from all over the world, and her neighbors, a lovely elderly couple of European decent, adored her.
“The Figgs just loved me,” she says, her voice full of fondness. “They doted on me. I blame them for my sugar addiction, because they gave me chocolate bunnies and chocolate Christmas trees. And my mother was a nurse who had friends from literally all over the world. So it was nothing for me to encounter a variety of people in my childhood. I just thought: this is the world. This is how the world is. I just thought: people are people.” Lewis loved to look through a coffee table book her mother kept filled with pictures of couples and families from all over the globe. It captivated her.
But when she turned twelve, a different reality set in. Lewis remembers seeing Alex Haley’s mini-series Roots on TV. “It was the first time I understood,” she says, “that there was a particular segment of humanity that despised my people because of color of our skin.” Lewis also started attending a posh girls’ school in Cleveland, and encountered racism for the first time in her life. Her basketball coach, along with two teammates, began to terrorize her.
this needs to be documented
Fast-forward to today: Lewis has degrees from the Howard University School of Law, Yale Divinity School, and Ashland Theological Seminary. She’s the founder, CEO, and Chief Creative Officer of Three Butterflies LLC, a producer of original multimedia content. And she’s gearing up to bring all her varied experience together to create a docu-series on racism in America today: The Xs & Os of Race/ism. Right now, she and her team are raising money with ioby to fund the series trailer.
“Racism is debilitating for a lot of people on a personal level,” Lewis says. “And systemic oppression debilitates the progress and the greatness of our society. Because of my firsthand experiences with racism, because of my theoretical study of the subject, I just feel very comfortable doing this work, and I know it is a part of my destiny and contribution to the human race.”
The idea came to her when a colleague, Linda Spurlock, approached Lewis to ask for help finding a research body for Crystal Reedy, one of her masters students. Reddy wanted to look at children’s experience of racism and race in this country. “As we’re talking about the project,” remembers Lewis, “I’m thinking ‘this needs to be documented.’” Reddy has already begun interacting with the kids she’ll study for her thesis, and so the docu-series that will follow her is off and running, too.
“We intend to address the misconception about race,” explains Lewis, “in order to issue a course correction, for those who care to hear the truth, and who care to act upon these truths. There is so much rhetoric around the subject of “race,” and I’m using air quotes, that is fallacious. Science has well established – whether biology or anthropology – that there is but one race, and it is the human race. Further, it has established that humanity began in Africa, and that every other ethnicity comes out of that African origin, but results from migration into other parts of the world. Yet African peoples – Continental and Diasporan, including African Americans – have been scapegoated and demonized for the last 500 years, and viewed as subhuman and as a pox on society. This is simply not true.”
What will a course correction look like? Conversation, to start. Coming to terms with the ugly parts of our shared history. Getting to a place where we can all be productive, humane, and loving members of society. “Until we do that,” says Lewis, “we will not know our greatness. It will continue to elude us.”
The documentary will likely be a tapestry of sorts. “We want to weave interviews, anecdotes, history, images and fine art and graphic art and geographical art,” says Lewis. “We want to weave all these elements into a story that is really reflective of each of the cultures that is highlighted, and of the American experience. We want it to touch people’s hearts and minds, and ultimately prompt people to live and behave differently. On a daily basis, millions upon millions upon millions of people from diverse backgrounds socialize respectfully and successfully. That is a starting point for change.”
what you can do
- Donate to help get this trailer made and out into the world!
- Have an idea or resource to share with Lewis and the team? They’re eager to hear from you. Feel free to get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org, and share possible channels for distribution, names of potential funders, stories you find inspiring, names of experts who may be in a position to comment, or anything else you think might be of help.
- Share the link to the campaign with any friends, schools, churches or religious institutions, or community groups you think might want to contribute to the campaign!
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