Growing up in Little Rock, Lorenzo Lewis would sometimes catch episodes of Star Trek on TV. Now, the 31-year-old is the recipient of a fellowship from the foundation created by the son of the late Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry.
Lewis is the founder of the Confess Project, the Little Rock nonprofit that works with black barbers to help raise awareness about mental health among men of color. On Nov. 6, he and 18 other activists from across the nation were named 2020 Roddenberry Fellows by the Roddenberry Foundation, which was started in 2010 by Rod Roddenberry.
The Confess Project also received $50,000 from the foundation, which recognizes leaders "who are working to protect the most vulnerable and to make the US a more inclusive and equitable place to live," according to its website.
"I was thinking of the days when I would sit and watch [Star Trek], and now it's come full circle," Lewis says.
It was not always a smooth journey. Lewis' mother gave birth to him while she was serving time in a New Jersey prison, he joined a gang as a teenager and eventually found himself behind bars when he was 17. Both of his parents had passed away by the time he was 21.
His aunt, Daisy Lee, owned Unique Hair Fashions on Asher Avenue in Little Rock. A barber who worked there suggested that therapy might help him work through some of his issues.
"I was going through depression, issues of identity and trying to find myself," he says. "I was headed down a pretty rough path."
By his early 20s, he was a youth-care worker and part of the security staff at Alexander Juvenile Assessment and Treatment Center. His experiences on both sides of the law and with therapy helped inspire him to start the Confess Project in 2016.
The project, which was featured in a story by Christopher A. Daniel at HuffPost.com, provides training not only to barbers, but also to mental health professionals and members of law enforcement on "how to be a part of supporting mental wellness to men of color," Lewis says, adding that the group aims "to help alleviate issues around incarceration, the school-to-prison pipeline and increase access to mental health services."
He was nervous at first about speaking to audiences in barbershops, but now finds it "peaceful and relaxing. It's a pillar of strength, knowing I'm empowering more than myself."
Besides Little Rock, the project is in 13 cities across the South and Midwest, including Louisville, Ky., Atlanta, Memphis, New Orleans and Indianapolis.
"The Roddenberry Foundation [award] will allow us to reach more metropolitan cities with this network," Lewis says. "We're reaching out to more national activists in larger cities, as well."
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