Every year, KGET and our parent company Nexstar seek out remarkable women in our community to highlight ahead of Women’s History Month. We have narrowed our nominations down to four finalists who are changing lives and giving back to the community of Kern County.
There are many things that make a woman remarkable, but certainly, forging the way for others is a big one. Dr. Brenda Lewis is not only the first African American woman to be part of the superintendency of Kern High School District, but she is helping to shape the next generation of leaders through mentorship. Despite all that, the nomination still took Lewis by surprise.
17 News’ Maddie Janssen spoke with finalist Dr. Brenda Lewis.
“When I read your email, I’m like what?” said Dr. Lewis. “One of my colleagues shortly after that called me and said, ‘I just want to give you a heads up, you might be hearing from…’ And I said, ‘Oh! Just so happens I just got an email…’ She explained and I’m just really humbled and surprised.”
What does that mean to you to be recognized, because I know you’ve been in your field for a long time working in education, working in mentorship, and reaching out to students, specifically African American students and young women, helping to empower and raise them up. What does it mean to you to be recognized for your work?
I’m just very humbled by the recognition. You can’t do anything of any significance or importance unless you have the support and collaboration and teamwork of a lot of people. I’ve been fortunate in my position, my positions throughout the years in leadership and especially now, as the associate superintendent of instruction. I’ve been fortunate to have certain areas fall under my division and I’ve had the support of my superintendent, directors, and a lot of people I work with including administration at the school sites, to just be able to implement and provide services that are needed for our students and especially for special populations of students. So it’s nothing that I’ve done on my own, it’s been a lot of teamwork and I’m just fortunate to have been the one that has been able to lead some of the work in our district.
Tell me about the Young Women Empowered for Leadership group.
We started this group in September of 2017. I was fortunate enough to be asked by the principal of North High School to go out and be a mentor for the young black women on the North High campus. At that time we had three other women in the district leading mentoring work with African American young ladies at their school sites. I pulled them together at the district and we talked about how to scale this across the district and the support that was being provided to these students, how can we get more of our students involved? We sat down at several meetings and we brainstormed about what would our mission be, what would our goal be? How do we start bringing this to scale with other schools in the district? We started with four schools, North, East, South, and West High School and then we slowly invited additional schools on for the past several years. Not wanting to move too quickly but wanting to provide that opportunity for other schools in the district. Now we have ten schools and we have a partnership with African American women from different occupations throughout the Bakersfield community who come in and provide workshops for our young ladies. We have two forums each year one is called Women in Business and Women in Education. They are made up of different panels and we bring the young women together and our panelists interact with the young ladies. And we show them a myriad of opportunities available to them.
What keeps you going and keeps you passionate about your work?
I believe God orders your steps and puts you where you’re supposed to be. When I went to college, I was from a family of poverty. I grew up in poverty, didn’t really know it. But, I always wanted to get a job, I thought when I went to college, I thought, ‘Hey I’m going to make a lot of money because I’m tired of being poor.’ I had the opportunity in college to be a counselor in the summer for a program called Upward Bound. I started working with young people then and decided that’s what I want to do.
What is a piece of advice you give to some of the students who you mentor that you’d also give to other young people in our community and specifically young women?
My advice to the young women and any of our students, I think the key to equipping yourself for success is first of all, being grounded in yourself. And I think one of the things our mentoring programs do is help instill confidence in our young people and help them take advantage of the different opportunities afforded to them to take advantage of the mentorship afforded to them, so that when they leave, we want them to be well-rounded individuals. We want them to take part in all the activities in high school whether it’s athletics, whether it’s a club, whether it’s choir, whether it’s band. Just to be able to reach out and expand their opportunities or their engagement, but to also always be mindful of the academic success and also to take advantage of just the many people who offer advice and guidance on how to best prepare them for their future. I just want all of our kids, once we try to equip you with that, before you leave us, I want them to always feel confident to follow their dreams and follow their passion. Because in order to do a work and be satisfied and gratified at the end of the day it’s not about a paycheck or the accolades but about that internal feeling you get that I’ve done something to help someone else and I’m gratified going to work every day and doing my job.