Ida Lewis (CGS’54, COM’56) has been a role model for many journalists, achieving a remarkable series of firsts for women, and for African-American women in particular. She was a Paris correspondent in the 1960s for several major newspapers and magazines, including Life and the New York Times, and interviewed African politicians and heads of state for BBC Africa and the magazine Jeune Afrique. In 1971, Lewis was named as the first editor-in-chief of Essence magazine and later that year founded Encore, a newsmagazine that explored African-American perspectives on global issues, becoming the first black woman to publish a national magazine.
She shifted to public relations in the 1980s, working as a media consultant on several major political campaigns, including Ross Perot’s presidential bid in 1992, and returned to journalism in 1998, when she became the first female editor-in-chief of the NAACP magazine The Crisis, at 95 years old the country’s oldest African-American journal.
Throughout her career, she has remained involved in the training and education of young journalists, as a lecturer at Boston University and Columbia University and as a member of COM’s National Alumni Committee and the dean’s Executive Advisory Board. And while she is particularly interested in young African-American journalists, she says that understanding the importance of diversity, and learning in an environment that promotes differences, is key for anyone who hopes to be a journalist.
“The world is getting smaller, and we’re all in it together,” she says. “I think it’s important that all students cultivate an open mind. If you’re going to report, you have to keep your pulse on human beings.”
Leading the way once again, Lewis is cultivating new interests. Having been a writer, an editor, and a publisher, at age seventy-one she is becoming a filmmaker. She has wanted “for decades” to produce a movie on the life of Russian poet and playwright Aleksandr Pushkin, and now, being semi-retired, she has the time to develop the needed skills. And in her spare time, she is writing her memoirs and teaching a course on race and the media at COM during the spring semesters.
“There are many things I feel proud of,” she says. “I went from being a newspaper journalist to a magazine editor to a magazine publisher, so I think what I’m proud of now is what I’m doing now.
“It’s such a challenge at my age,” she adds. “But I feel as young as I did thirty years ago. I’ve discovered that you never stop learning, and you must always strive to go one more step.”