We had the good fortune of connecting with Jameka Lewis and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Jameka, can you tell us about an impactful book you’ve read and why you liked it or what impact it had on you?
When I was in the 5th grade, our class read Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor.

We read it out loud as a class, and hearing my classmates stumble over certain words or disturbing parts of the book made me wonder why a book about the experiences of poor Black folks made kids so uncomfortable to hear. I mean, I was one of few Black children in my class and I’d learned about American slavery, about what happened to Black people afterwards and the discrimination they faced…the violence and not-so-subtle harshness of living in America at a time where simply existing was dangerous. I didn’t find the book as horrible as many of my classmates did. In fact, I related to Cassie because Cassie was a Black girl like me, who was just trying to figure out the world around her.

This book not only sparked my love of reading, but my love of Black history. I still read it periodically and if asked why, my response would be “so I never forget the birthplace of my passion and the seed that was planted for my purpose.”

Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
My official title is Senior Librarian at the Blair-Caldwell African American Research Library, which is a part of the Denver Public Library system.

What sets us apart is that we specifically focus on Black history and culture, specifically of the historic Five Points neighborhood, of Denver as a whole and of the West. What makes my position unique is that I not only have the opportunity to manage a wonderful public library, but that I am allowed to immerse myself into this history and share it with the world.

It wasn’t until I was in college that I thought that I could be a librarian. Although I continually used our public library in my hometown (Guthrie, Oklahoma), I never saw library staff who looked like me. Meeting a Black librarian in college (who later became my mentor in the profession) opened my eyes to the possibility that working in libraries could be an option for me. After graduation, she helped me with landing my first job, which was as a clerk in my alma mater’s main library! From there, I became her Administrative Assistant and she started to talk to me more about going to library school. She lead me to different scholarships, fellowships and initiatives and with her support, I completed my Master of Library Science degree in 2012.

There definitely have been some challenges with being a Black person in this profession. Librarianship is 87% white, so there are times where I have faced discrimination, microaggressions, etc. I overcome and handle those challenges by staying true to who I am, by advocating for my staff and others and by keeping my focus on my mission, which is to honor those who came before me by telling their stories.

Being in an information profession allows me to learn new and innovative ways to share history and to relate to those who entrust us with preserving their stories. I have learned that relating to people as individuals is the best way to learn about them. People are often eager to share their experiences, but there has to be a certain level of trust before that happens. The best way to earn that trust is simply to listen. I listen far more than I speak, and that has allowed me to grow both personally and professionally. It has made me privy to tales and experiences that I have used to enhance the way I approach and interact with those whose narratives I come across.

I am most proud of the fact that I am in a position to care for information that pertains to the lives of not only our ancestors and predecessors, but those who are still making history. The art of storytelling is so important in Black culture. Having a hand in sharing those legacies is an honor that I don’t take lightly. I love working for an institution that is so diverse in what we offer; we not only focus on Black history and culture, but we offer the same services as other branches in our system.

What I want the world to know about me is that I am passionate about what I do and I don’t take for granted the experiences I’ve had. I truly desire to educate the world on Black history and the importance of sharing accurate stories. I strongly advocate for everyone to learn ways to conduct research that will allow them to verify and trust sources that they come across. That skill set is extremely important because we are truly in the Information Age, but what comes along with that is the rise of the Misinformation Age as well.

Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
I’d definitely bring them to Five Points first and give them a tour of the neighborhood. We’d have lunch from Welton Street Cafe, take tours of the Museum for Black Girls and the Black American West Museum and we’d definitely come by my library.

We’d go to the Red Rocks Amphitheatre because of the beautiful views of Denver and we’d have some delicious tea and food at TeaLee’s Teahouse.

I’d take my friends to brunch at Agave Shore here in Five Points! I enjoy being near water, so I’d probably take them to the Cherry Creek State Park for some paddle boarding (I’m eager to try this!) and general fun in the sun!

The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I want to dedicate my Shoutout to my parents, James Lewis and Linda Parker, who always believed in me. I also want to dedicate this to two Black women who have been instrumental in my career…Mrs. Bettye Black and Mrs. Terry Nelson. These phenomenal Black librarians have paved the way for librarians like me who are passionate about our culture and preserving our history.

I’d also like to dedicate this to my colleagues at the Blair-Caldwell African American Research Library. Thank you for all of your dedication to our mission and for the way you all provide so much for our customers and the community.

Last and never least, I want to dedicate this to my daughter, Corrina. She has been with me through every single step of my career, from being a college student to where I am now. She is, and always will be, my inspiration. I hope that I make her proud.

Instagram: @jaybelluh

Facebook: Jameka B. Lewis (there is an option to Follow me there)

Image Credits
Monaie Diamond Photography Kevin J. Beaty, Denverite

Nominate Someone: ShoutoutColorado is built on recommendations and shoutouts from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you or someone you know deserves recognition please let us know here.