Lewis consistent with humanitarian acts

Youth of the Year 



By St. Clair Murraine

Outlook staff writer

At the end of one of her recent shifts at a restaurant where she works part-time, Imani Lewis saw something that grabbed her attention.

  Her humanitarian nature wouldn’t let her ignore it.

One of her single-parent coworkers who works the overnight shift was setting up her daughter to sleep in a seldom-used booth in the restaurant. A conversation ensured between Lewis and the mother.

What happened next was life-changing. Lewis convinced the mother to let the child go home with her at the end of earlier shift. Her days now start by preparing that child for pre-school.

“It’s a lot but I like doing it,” said Lewis, a senior at Leon High School. “My dream has always been to work with little kids.”

In fact she is, as Lewis also is involved in looking after the wellbeing of at least two other children. One of them is her niece, daughter of her brother who died in 2010. In another instance, she routinely assists a school mate when her son is brought to Leon for a bus transfer to daycare.

Lewis also was one of the driving forces behind a campaign by the youth ministry of Bethel Missionary Baptist Church that sent a trailer-load of water to Flint, Mich., during that city’s water crisis.

Her leadership led to former mayor Andrew Gillum giving her a key to the city.

Lewis’s most recent accolade is being named Youth of the Year by the Capital Outlook for 2018. 

“I was surprised,” she said. “I was asking by whom. Why did I get it?”

Obviously for her human spirit. Especially caring for children in a way that she’s developed a reputation for doing.

“I’m a worrier and I worry about things so when I see people in that situation (of need) I feel I can do something to help,” Lewis said. “I can make a difference. I know if I were in that situation, I would need help, too.”

That’s the way that Lewis explains what drives her. However, there is a big influence in her mother, Berinice, who is a nurse. Her impact on her daughter is so profound that Imani has decided on a nursing career.

“I like helping people,” she said, disclosing that she will attend FAMU after graduating from Leon this spring. “I think instead of being a doctor, nurses are more involved. Nurses get to know you and your family and are more hands-on than the doctor. The nurses make an impact because they are there for you.”

She has decided on FAMU for another reason. She believes the HBUC will give her that Black experience that she hasn’t had in school, she said.

“They won’t talk about how we used to be kings and queens in Africa,” she said, adding that she developed a sense of Black consciousness after middle school. “Every year since I was in kindergarten I leaned about slavery; Black people were on slave boat and they came and got us from Africa. That’s all I heard.”

Lewis’s mother didn’t just influence her career choice. She developed an interest in running because of her mother’s passion, which led to her joining the Capital City Christian Cruisers youth track club. That lasted until high school, where she shifted her focus to field events and took to the shot put.

Running has become a family thing of sorts, though, with her father, Jerry, taking to marathons and triathlons. 

Imani plans to run at least one more season for Leon, something she said she will do to keep a promise to her track coach. She doesn’t expect to have an issue regaining what drove her when she was younger.

“I was happier when I ran,” she said. “My mom and I have this thing where we run; like running is our therapy. When my brother passed (away), I used to get out there and run. I loved it.”

Last year, Lewis joined the girl’s weightlifting team at Leon. Her rise was quick, said coach Cory Gaines, who recalled her early lifts being about 55 pounds before she ended the season lifting 90 pounds.

That big a jump Gaines said he wasn’t expecting when she showed up for her first practice.

“When you look at Imani, you figure she is just a girly girl; the long hair and long nails,” he said. “Typically I really didn’t think she was going to be a competitor. She blew my mind because she’s competitive.”

Gaines attributed Lewis’ climb to becoming one of the best 154-pound class lifter to her willingness to learn. 

“She kind of became one of those bugs in the ear, which is a good thing because she always wanted to be one of the best; almost wanting to be a perfectionist,” he said.

Her tenacity transcended throughout the team, Gaines said. That was especially obvious during the district competition when Leon faced a favored Lincoln team. 

She inspired the Leon team by encouraging her teammates to give their best. “A lot of girls bought into that,” Gaines said, helping them to a top-10 finish.

Lewis’ disposition is one that underlies how furious she gets in competition. While Gaines has seen as much, he was surprised to learn how much she cares for others – especially children.

“That speaks volume,” he said. “That’s not something you typically teach at home. That’s something that comes from the heart, putting a child before her own needs. 

“For a high school student to get a little child ready before she does; that very special.”