DOWNTOWN – Kinloch-born film, stage and TV star Jenifer Lewis, known for her emphatic motherly voice and roles, is one of 14 women honored Saturday as part of the local Urban League’s Salute to Women in Leadership.
All the awardees were given resolutions Friday from the Board of Aldermen at the aldermanic meeting at City Hall.
Lewis, along with her sisters, was present for the pause in deliberations to receive her resolution.
“I have proclamations from New York City, I have proclamations from Los Angeles. Nothing means more to me than this from St. Louis, Missouri,” Lewis said, waving off applause.
Lewis dedicated her honors to her late mother, whom she said told her and her siblings that if they landed in jail, “I’ll leave you there.”
However, Lewis has increased her chances of landing in jail in her latest role as activist, a role she said now consumed 75 percent of her life.
“My ancestors’ and your ancestors’ work should not be in vain, and with all that I am, I am going to do everything to make sure that your great-grandchildren have air to breath,” she said sternly. She continued, “I am going to make sure that millennials go back to the Midwest and get those black women out to vote.”
Validating her role in her resistance to racism, she recounted her acting role as the aunt on the sitcom “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air,” a mother in several movies and now as the grandmother on another sitcom, “Black-ish.”
“They look up to me and (U.S. Rep., D-Calif.) Maxine Waters as auntie and mama, so I am going use that platform. … I did not come to tiptoe through the tulips after my mother did everything she did to raise me and my sisters.”
Lewis also relayed a personal, bittersweet memory of experiences in Ferguson while a child living in Kinloch. Warned never to go to Ferguson alone, she would sneak there every Saturday and sit in the balcony so that no one would recognize her and tell her mother. It was there that she imagined herself on the big screen. Now, after 68 movies, 499 television shows (episodic), four Broadway shows and concerts world-wide, she has arrived.
Alderman Jeffery Boyd, 22nd Ward, the chairman of the Aldermanic Black Caucus, said: “In the spirit of Juneteenth this is so appropriate that you are here today because of your struggles and what you bring to America, and the stories that you share are so important … and that rich history, we must never forget. You are certainly a part of that rich history, and thank you so much for what you do for all of us.”
At an Urban League gala and fundraiser on Saturday, Lewis received the Lifetime Achievement Award.
Also receiving UL awards and aldermanic resolutions for their exceptional contributions to St. Louis at the UL’s annual fundraiser were:
Bern Nadette Stanis, known for her role on the small screen in the ’70s sitcom “Good Times,” who also received a Lifetime Achievement Award
Regina Belle, a Grammy-Award winning songstress also honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award.
Betty Thompson, the outspoken former Missouri state representative and director of the Kwame Building Foundation, Inc.
Frances Levine, who became president and CEO of the Missouri Historical Society (which operates the Missouri History Museum, the Library Research Center and the newly renovated Soldiers Memorial Military Museum) in 2014
Connie Wilson, who after working 24 years in the construction industry with Hercules Construction, Turner Construction and the architectural firm of Kromm, Rikimaru & Johnson, joined Better Family Life Inc.
Marsha A. Mockabee, who was unanimously elected president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Cleveland and is the first female to hold the position there
Maureen Brinkley, who among other accomplishments earned a perfect score on the Civil Service Examination and was recruited by a host of federal agencies but chose to enter government service throughout the U.S. Small Business Administration
Miranda Jones, vice president of youth, family and clinical services for BFL, who has more than 20 years’ experience working with at-risk youths
Molly Highland, director of community relations, foundation advisory services and government relations for Commerce Bank, where she is responsible for strategy and charitable contributions activities within the St. Louis market
Nancy Kranzberg, who with her husband, Ken, founded the Kranzberg Arts Foundation, which provides infrastructure for small arts organizations to hone their skills. She sits on dozens of arts boards including Jazz St. Louis, Laumeier Sculpture Park, the St. Louis Art Museum, Mid-America Arts Alliance and the Contemporary Art Museum of St. Louis
Paula E.W. Carey-Moore, who has served since 2014 as director of housing for the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis overseeing St. Louis City, St. Louis County and St. Claire County, Ill.
Robin Boyce, a 40-year broadcast journalist who has worked in the newspaper, radio and television industries and is currently employed by the city of St. Louis with the Comptroller’s Office at St. Louis Lambert International Airport
Rose Mary Johnson, a retired educator who has served as principal, assistant principal and teacher
Suzy Stone, a district vice president of stores for Macy’s, who oversees the sales and operations of 19 stores in St. Louis, Kansas City and regional Missouri and Illinois, directing more than 1,500 executives
Yaphett El-Amin, a community advocate and executive director of MOKAN Construction Contractors Assistance Center, a nonprofit organization that for more than 40 years has served as a link between minority- and women-owned firms and the general construction industry.