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Memorial Celebrates the Multifaceted Andrea Lewis

New America Media, News Feature, Video, Aaron Glantz // Video by Ann Bassette Posted: Nov 25, 2009

Editor's Note: Hundreds of mourners attended a memorial service Tuesday evening to celebrate the journalist's life and work.

OAKLAND, Calif. -- The warmth of Andrea Lewis voice bounced off the rafters of Oaklands First Unitarian Church Tuesday night. The veteran journalist and radio talk show host, who for a decade hosted KPFAs Morning Show and Sunday Sedition programs, and earlier worked as an editor at Pacific News Service (the parent company of New America Media), serenaded a standing-room-only crowd that filled the aisles and the balcony.

She introduced some of her favorite guests Professor Cornell West, author Michael Eric Dyson, broadcaster Tavis Smiley, performance artist Rodessa Jones, religious thinker Houston Smith, and a collective of African American women from Gees Bend, Ala., whose quilts became a major touring exhibit in Americas leading museums.

But Lewis, who died November 15 at the age of 52, wasnt physically present at the event. The hundreds of mourners who came to celebrate her life and work would have to make do with her warm voice and a photographic image of her smile projected above the dais.

She was always true to herself, Andreas aunt Lydia Alexander said near the beginning of the two-hour service. She was a serious intellect who in a light-hearted and sincere manner, genuinely listened to others. There wasnt a pretentious bone in her body.

That didnt mean she didnt have strong opinions, however. If you didnt want her opinion, you didnt have to ask, Alexander said.

Lewis was remembered as a rare complete person whose interests and passions ranged from camping and golf to astronomy, massage, music and the arts.

She sang with the San Francisco Symphony Chorus for more than 20 years, appearing on four Grammy-winning CDs, and in the Emmy-winning telecast of Sweeney Todd. She sang at Carnegie Hall.

The Symphony Chorus was one of four music and arts organizations to perform at her memorial, along with the jazz group UpSurge!, the womens vocal ensemble Kitka, and Krissy Keefers dance brigade.

In his eulogy, former California Poet Laureate Al Young compared Lewis to other notable natives of Detroit Aretha Franklin, Smokey Robinson and Lily Tomlin who made their passion for social justice felt through the arts.

She had such a welcoming spirit, San Francisco State Ethnic Studies Professor Larry Solomon said to the mourners. She just reminded me of family right off the bat.

A frequent sports commentator on KPFAs Morning Show, Solomon said he regularly invited Lewis to speak to his class on sports, race and society at S.F. State. Solomon said Lewis help broaden the appeal of the progressive media to a new generation of young people who otherwise would not have found meaning in community media.

Andrea was a woman of juxtapositions, said Lisa Rothman, who worked with Lewis for six years as executive producer of KPFAs Morning Show. She was a woman of size whose favorite car was an Ashton Mini Cooper, an environmentalist who was a golfer, a night owl who hosted a morning show.

She had the ability to put everyone at ease, Rothman said, but she also could make us profoundly uncomfortable confronting issues of racism, sexism and homophobia.

In 2008, Lewis received a prestigious Knight Journalism Fellowship at Stanford University. Dawn Garcia, the programs deputy director, said Andrea seemed to relish in the contradiction of receiving recognition from an elite institution after spending years critiquing the powerful in her professional and personal life.

It was hugely important for her that after spending years outside the castle throwing rocks across the moat, her work, efforts, and criticism had been recognized, Garcia said, relating with a smile one trip the Knight fellows took as a group to the beach in Santa Cruz.

While the rest of the fellows wore shorts or bathing suits, Andrea dressed herself head to toe in Stanford paraphernalia.

New America Media editor Kevin Weston spoke of Lewis time at Pacific News Service in the 1990s, where Andrea helped edit YO!, Youth Outlook magazine, and start The Beat Within, a writing program for youth incarcerated at juvenile hall.

Thats the dirty work, Weston said, but it was the kind of work that Andrea believed in. She understood and encouraged young people, he said. She gave us the way and showed us the way.

Andreas friend, Joy Gamble remembered Lewis as a big, beautiful black woman with a big heart, who was especially committed to mentoring young people.

Gamble announced the creation of a fund for youth in Lewis name. Arrangements to create such a fund are currently being made.

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