Staff Spotlight: SLU's Lewis is Voice for Others
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.
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
“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.