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Staff Spotlight: SLU's Lewis is Voice for Others

by Amelia Flood on 07/31/2018

For L. Michelle Lewis, providing access to all life has to offer – from shopping deals to the latest news from Missouri’s Lincoln and Pike Counties – has driven her professional life while allowing her to be a voice for others on her personal time.

L. Michelle Lewis

L. Michelle Lewis, head of Saint Louis University’s Office of Institutional Equity and Diversity, volunteers with Minds Eye Radio. Photo by Ellen Hutti.

The head of Saint Louis University’s Office of Institutional Equity and Diversity, Lewis has spent most of her career working in human resources and the compliance field addressing issues of access and barriers that arise for people due to their gender, disability status, race, or sexual orientation.

In her over five years at SLU, Lewis has been honored for her advocacy work, She was named a 2018 “Woman of the Year” by the SLU Women’s Commission, gave the opening remarks at the 2018 “Women at SLU: The Quest for Knowledge, Power, and Legacy” bicentennial symposium, and has participated in the Stand Against Racism Campaign.

When not at work, she serves others as the “voice of Lincoln and Pike Counties” for Minds Eye Radio, a Belleville-based non-profit radio station dedicated to connecting people with visual impairments to the news and entertainment needed to live fuller lives. Lewis has been volunteering with Minds Eye for 15 years and recently has been logging her service as part of SLU’s 200-Years-in-One-Year Challenge.

“It’s an innate passion that I have – service to others,” Lewis said. “Access is my mission and my passion.”

Lewis’s road to radio began as a “small nugget of a dream,” while growing up in East St. Louis. Local television mainstay Robin Smith was her hero. Smith (Grad Cook ’98), was the first female African-American news anchor in the St. Louis market. She later served on SLU’s Board of Trustees beginning in 1996 and eventually was elected vice chair in 2000. It sparked Lewis’s interest in media work.

“I used to think, ‘If Robin could do it, I could,’” Lewis recalled. “As I look at the sum total of things, reflecting on the impact Robin Smith had on me as a little girl growing up in the‘70s, the Minds Eye assignment makes a lot of sense.”

When an opportunity arose to serve as a volunteer reader at Minds Eye came up, Lewis took it and began reading small pieces and subbing in as a reader for the Saturday morning news, bringing listeners stories from the Belleville News-Democrat.

“If you sneezed or laughed or coughed, it was all captured in real time,” she explained. “It was a bit daunting.” But she continued and expanded her radio persona over the years as she found that  the hours spent reading the latest Black Friday shopping specials, local news briefs and novels were deeply rewarding. For example, bringing those Black Friday sales to life allowed Lewis to tap into her own love of retail therapy while also giving others a chance to share in the same excitement as the sales neared.

“It had never dawned on me and it was really impactful to me – visually-impaired people still have to shop,” she said. “No one is exempt from having or developing an impairment at any stage in their lives, even  a visual impairment. It’s a very, very humbling thing when you understand that you are literally being someone else’s eyes.”

After she became the regular news reader for residents in Pike and Lincoln, Lewis also recognized how communities can seem different but that the values and relationships within them mirror each other. While SLU’s Midtown campus may be miles and a river-crossing removed from her listeners, Lewis said that her years of reading news from the Lincoln County Journal, Elsberry Democrat, Troy Free Press and Bowling Green Times have reinforced the need to engage with others. It makes her proud to bring those communities’ local news, from the county fair standings to chicken dinner benefits, to the airwaves.

“You find yourself having a newfound respect for the soy farmers, the dairy farmers, for these different industries that are interwoven in the fabric of America just as much as we are here in higher education,” Lewis said. “We all feel passion. We all feel compassion. We all feel community. We all feel the need to reach out to a cause greater than our own.”

Staff Spotlight is an occasional series dedicated to revealing the stories behind the name badges of SLU's staff members. To suggest a staff member to shine a light on, contact Newslink.