Lewis, a Gies College of Business graduate and the University of Illinois’ former Student Body President, is currently teaching fourth-grade literacy in summer school to dozens of public school students at Walter Payton College Prep on Chicago’s North Side as part of an internship with The Academy Group—a social enterprise that leverages earned revenue from financial investments to create world-class opportunities for young people from the nation’s most resilient communities.
His teaching stint in Chicago ends July 31, and he will leave the next day for St. Louis, where he will begin his second year as a middle school math teacher at Normandy 7th-8th Grade Center as part of a two-year commitment to Teach For America.
“I think my purpose in life is trying to help people, and I want to be able to make a difference not because I’m trying to get my name out but because I want to give back,” said Lewis, a Westchester native who is living in Hyde Park while interning for The Academy Group.
Lewis said his time at Gies, including when he was an Admissions student worker with the college, prepared him for helping others and empowered him to have purpose, ethics and transform big ideas into meaningful actions.
“I learned about being comfortable enough to create your own legacy,” said Lewis, a graduate of Gies Business’ Finance program. “I was seeing that through classes and the teachers and the students. It was an understanding that there was a bigger purpose in what you do, and that’s why you have to work hard and strive to make a difference.”
He saw that firsthand at Normandy 7th-8th Grade Center, where Lewis said numerous students looked at him as a father figure. He routinely gave students food like bags of almonds from his lunch if they asked and said many students would get thrilled on Fridays because that’s when many of their parents received food stamps.
“My kids needed so much more than math from me,” said Lewis, who lives in St. Louis’ The Grove neighborhood when he works there. “My kids are going through things that there’s no way I would have ever been exposed to. They have to think about whether their family will be safe or whether their parents will be home.
“You really start to see the injustices of education. The people that need the resources and support aren’t getting them, and these kids don’t have time to be kids. They see things that they shouldn’t be seeing.”
Lewis, a St. Joseph High School graduate, said working with the students in St. Louis has been a “blessing,” and he can’t wait to start again August 6.
“Being around them, it just makes me continue to want to be a better person,” Lewis said. “I want them to believe in themselves, to believe that they can make it.”