The 23-year-old leads a full life while giving back to society

Humanities major giving back to society

IT SEEMS AS if there is nothing too difficult for 23-year-old Michael Lewis to master. He has tried his hand at just about everything, and is yet to fail at anything.

From an early age, this effervescent young man had an interest in developing and sustaining the Jamaican culture. He told UWIMONA Now that his passion is to use his talents to help improve his country. He’s been doing just that and picking up national recognition along the way.

Lewis, who hails from Clarendon, grew up with his father and grandparents who instilled the value of hard work in him and taught him to be unafraid of trying new things. “I grew up learning to take care of animals. I did chicken rearing and I helped to take care of pigs with grandpa. Doing that taught me not to be a mediocre individual, to push myself beyond academics and venture into other things.” One of those ‘other things’ was the Jamaica 4-H Club, which somehow led him to the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission (JCDC) where his ‘claim to fame began’. “The 4-H Club allowed me to do things which I was used to doing such as poultry rearing, taking care of pigs, and learning more about cattle rearing. Then I branched off into speech, and joined the Speech and Drama Club at my institution, which collaborates with the JCDC,” he explained.

Having found an organisation that mirrored his passions, Lewis developed his culinary art skills, learned about table setting and etiquette, got involved in visual arts and drama, and honed his public speaking and speech skills. All this while he navigated the Denbigh Primary School. “I was the one who initiated, in a sense, or kind of founded the speech and drama club there. I was also one of the first persons to represent Denbigh Primary School in the JCDC Speech and Drama Festival,” he recalled.

Lewis continued his active involvement with the JCDC throughout primary school and into high school. “They already had a Speech Club at Denbigh High School, and therefore I merely contributed to the number of awards that they received. When I was graduating, I received The Most Culturally Aware Student Award, and I became Denbigh High School’s first student ambassador.” In addition to this award, Lewis, through his involvement with JCDC, was recognised for his participation in the JCDC Culinary Arts Competition and their Speech and Drama competitions. He was also given the opportunity to host numerous functions and perform at several national events, including those held for National Heroes Day. He also conducted several presentations for younger children on how being involved in the JCDC can benefit them in the future. In addition to these, he also helped with the Miss Jamaica Festival Queen competition.

Having received the highest grade in Jamaica for Theatre Arts at the CSEC level, Lewis continued his journey to sixth form. There, he represented Jamaica and Denbigh High School at the Caribbean Youth Science Forum in Trinidad and Tobago. He continued helping with the Miss Jamaica Festival Queen Competition and also started providing his expertise to several contestants. “There were a number of people who would come to me for help with the Jamaica Festival Queen Competition and Clarendon Festival Queen Competition,” he recalled.
In 2012, Lewis was nominated for the Prime Minister’s Youth Award for leadership through the Jamaica 4-H Club, and for arts and culture through Denbigh High School. As an awardee can only receive this honour for one category, Lewis received the Prime Minister’s Youth Award for Arts and Culture.

On a high from his accomplishments, Lewis started planning the next phase of his eventful life. After sixth form, he decided to pursue a degree in Entertainment and Cultural Enterprise Management at The UWI, Mona. “A teacher [from Denbigh High School] contacted me and asked if I had got through for The UWI. Then she said, ‘how would you like for someone to pay your tuition? Somebody saw you in a diaspora blog and they would love to pay your tuition if you maintain a GPA over 3.0 and if you dedicate yourself to giving back to society by helping others’. This is something that I would have already been doing,” he explained. He accepted and received a full tuition scholarship from an anonymous donor for his entire undergraduate degree programme. Later, he would find out that this had come from a prominent international entertainment company.

Lewis supplemented his tuition scholarship with help from family and friends. He also got a part-time job as a customer service representative at the Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) company on campus. Friends also helped him to cover payment for his hall fees. “When I just received the scholarship – before I had got the job – I couldn’t find enough money to fund my accommodation and so I utilised social media to get help to pay my hall fee. I wrote a post requesting friends to donate any amount of funds they could afford. I was able to pay half of my accommodation fees within three days!”

Lewis’ transition to university was a smooth one. He sustained a delicate balance between his academics and his co- and extra-curricular activities, while excelling in every area. He was a member of UWISTAT – the
Vice-Chancellor’s student ambassador corps; he was an active member of the UWI Players, where he acted in a well-known production – Jonkanoo Jamboree; he was a part of the Taylor Hall Chorale; and he, along with Candiece Knight, founded Taylor Hall’s Oratory and Performing Arts Society (THOPAS). THOPAS competed in the Inter-Hall Speech Competition and placed second in their first year; in their second year as a club, they took first place. Lewis also continued his involvement in pageant productions, serving as pageant director for the Miss UWI Mona competition, and successfully reviving interest and enthusiasm in the show. On October 16 the JCDC presented him with The Award For Outstanding Achievement in Arts and Culture for the parish of Clarendon.

He now assists UWI undergraduate students by offering tutoring for core course areas. He is in the second year of a Master of Arts degree in Cultural Studies and hopes to pursue a Doctor of Philosophy degree in the same field soon after. He hopes to become a university lecturer, as well as start an entrepreneurial venture that will allow him to expand his contribution to the cultural development of his country.