Yes, she has been in 400 episodes of television, performed at 200 concerts, appeared in 68 films, 40 animations and four Broadway shows. But her credentials on the big screen, the small screen and the stage are not what made Kinloch native Jenifer Lewis a star.
Over the summer, her name was engraved among the legends of entertainment. While having her own space on the Hollywood Walk of Fame certainly adds to the confirmation, it is not what makes Jenifer Lewis a star. Lewis is a star because she is free enough to use the celebrity her talents have afforded her for the sake of change.
On one of the world’s most famous boulevards, Jenifer Lewis’ name sits right next to Katharine Hepburn.
“I’m trying to use my platform as Katharine Hepburn did,” Lewis said during the July ceremony.
“To educate and inspire.”
In addition to those countless film and television roles, the world has seen Jenifer Lewis stand up for justice.
She was on the frontlines of Ferguson. Her YouTube videos have reached millions and have touched upon sensitive topics such as the Flint water crisis and the importance of political engagement.
Next week she returns to her alma mater Webster University for a special evening with Jenifer Lewis at 5:30 p.m. on Saturday, November 5 at the Loretto-Hilton.
“I’ve been all over the United States with the book, but you know nothing is like coming home,” Lewis said when she stood on stage at the very same venue while on tour for her literary debut – future bestselling memoir The Mother of Black Hollywood – back in 2018.
While she will be promoting her follow up book Walking in My Joy, proceeds from the event will benefit the Jenifer Lewis Endowed Sargent Conservatory Fund. Lewis established the endowment in 2015 – when she was presented with an Honorary Doctorate while delivering the Webster University 2015 commencement keynote address.
The intention of the endowment was to give students who “look like her” an opportunity to pursue their dreams. She wants to pay forward the support she received on Webster’s campus before, during and after she walked across the stage to receive her undergraduate degree in 1979.
Nearly 45 years later, she returns as one of the school’s biggest success stories. “I love life and I love that I got to do what I love with my life,” Lewis said during her Hollywood Walk of Fame ceremony.
“And I know that I am one of the lucky ones.” Walking in My Joy is a collection of eclectic stories that takes readers around the globe, demonstrating how she literally “walks in her joy” by seeking pleasure in everyday encounters.
But Lewis has also found purpose in the pitfalls of her journey. She was at the forefront of recent conversations regarding mental health in the Black community because of transparency about her triumphant battle with bipolar disorder – which she details extensively in her memoir.
Activism and advocacy go hand and hand with Lewis’ life as an entertainer these days. She says that for her “the real work” is off stage and off camera.
“Make no mistake, when it’s all said and done, it is your humanity that will matter above all things.”
An Evening with Jenifer Lewis will take place at 5:30 p.m. on Saturday, November 5 at the Loretto-Hilton Center for the Performing Arts on the campus of Webster University. For tickets and additional information about the event, visit webster.edu/jeniferlewis.