Building a Legacy
By Angela E. Thomas
Fatherhood is a joy. This statement isn’t a surprise for most fathers. However, anyone familiar with Lorenzo Lewis’ background knows it’s especially so for him.
Lewis is founder of The Confess Project, an organization founded to address the mental health needs and education of men of color ages 11 to 35.
“Arkansas is 47th in the nation for a high prevalence of mental illness and 44th in the nation for poor access to services to address mental health issues,” Lewis said. “There’s an incredible need for men and their loved ones to be equipped with the tools to increase their resilience and to gain the skill sets to get through the challenges we face.”
Lewis freely admits that he’s had his own experience with periods of depression. His mother was incarcerated when he was born; he became part of the juvenile system at 17; and he had lost both of his parents by the time he turned 21.
Through the loving guidance of an aunt and uncle, Lewis overcame these hurdles. He was in college when he became a father.
“We certainly didn’t plan to become parents. I was still growing into manhood, so the idea of becoming a father was frightening. I didn’t know what to do. Today, I can say that having a child wasn’t intentional, but I am very intentional about being in Sareya’s life,” Lewis said.
He and Sareya’s mother had some issues to work through, but he’s been a part of his daughter’s life since she was an infant.
“I was scared. I didn’t think I’d be effective as a father—it’s a learning process. Thankfully, I had great family support from my sister and aunt. If it had not been for them, I don’t know what I would have done.” Like many young fathers, Lewis had to learn all the basics: changing diapers, making bottles, etc.
Sareya is now 6, and Lewis said he and her mother are great co-parents. “I am excited, optimistic really, about her growth and development. I’m open to who Sareya is and who she will become,” he said.
Lewis wants to lend his daughter the same type of nurturing support he was given by loved ones and mentors and to ensure she has a good foundation.
“I also had people around me who modeled a positive lifestyle, how meaningful it is to get an education … college saved me. I wouldn’t be here without it. I attended two great historically black colleges: Arkansas Baptist College and the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, where I had professors and other staff who poured into me.”
Lewis said his greatest role models were Dr. John Miller, a social worker; Dedjran Dunbar, a network engineer, who has provided social support; and his Uncle T. Royal Lee, who taught him to work hard.
“He has a strong work ethic. He taught me to mow yards, rake leaves, to do what it takes to earn a living. It’s something that has stuck with me to this day.”
His education and becoming a father have shown Lewis more of who he is.
“I’ve seen a side of me that I definitely would not have if I didn’t have Sareya. Being able to build a relationship with her, to be with her as she’s growing, is the best thing. I get to invest in her, in her talent and growth, and teach her things like a love of reading and how to practice etiquette,” he added.
“My goal in life is to build something lasting for her, to build a legacy for her, her children, her children’s children … I want her to know that her life can be and will be different.”