By MECA WILLIAMS-JOHNSON, Ph.D.
Professor of Educational Research, Georgia Southern University
Granting our local Bulloch County Black history contributors much deserved recognition is a small step to showing gratitude for all they do within our community.
Contributors like Vicki Lewis should not be overlooked as she has made a positive impact on so many Bulloch County students. Her story reflects a strong individual who believes in family and responsibility to community. She has served as a teacher at Portal Middle High for 10 years and in education for 17 years. Lewis’s start within education was different than what she expected.
Her family is originally from Bulloch County and participated in the great migration in the 1950s and 60s. Her parents moved to find different economic opportunities in New Jersey. She was born as the first of four children to Abraham McCormick and Barnell (Bunny) Parrish Tremble. She and her brothers Kenny and Randy, and sister Milbah, started their schooling experience in Jersey schools but moved back to Statesboro when Lewis was 15 years old. She then graduated from Statesboro High School in 1976 and moved away to attend college in Carrollton at West Georgia College (now University of West Georgia).
Her desired career was to become a librarian. She had early influences from her aunts who were educators and avid readers and who she says, “kept us well stocked with books.” Her aunts would send boxes of books and encouraged them to read. Lewis remembered she would often find herself lost in a book while hiding from her siblings because she avoided completing her chores to escape in a book.
“My mother and other aunts demonstrated intelligence, strength and independent spirit that my sister and I admired,” she said.
Their influence had a large impact on her decision to complete school and prompt others to enjoy reading, similar to what she experienced. However, West Georgia College did not have a Library Science program at the time, and she opted for English and Journalism major instead and graduated in 1980.
While several peers and family told her that she would be an excellent teacher, Lewis resisted the career option. She clearly stated feeling “not interested at all” having heard stories from her other family members who were educators for so many years.
However, as her experiences grew and with her move back to Statesboro, she became increasingly interested in student learning. Lewis completed her Master of Teaching degree in English Education in 2008 at Georgia Southern University.
Before starting on her master’s, Lewis was inspired by several of her sorority sisters of Delta Sigma Theta and Dr. Gwendolyn Yarbrough. Lewis was the administrative assistant at the Performing Learning Center, and Yarbrough methodically and consistently encouraged Lewis to complete her initial certification and earn her master’s.
She was persuasive and supportive, Lewis recalls about Yarbrough, “I know she wanted good teachers for the kids, and she believed I could do it.”
While she did not initially see herself as a teacher, she found the teaching career rewarding. She says there are too many times to recall but, “I could see myself really making a difference” and “I believe some students see me as a mother figure and look to me for guidance and direction, and I let them know they matter.”
She is inspired to continue to watch students find their light and help them to process the things they see in the world. She feels empowered “to help students shape their outlook, remove negative thinking, be positive and to choose kindness.”
Building character in our students is essential to the task of educators and one that Lewis does not take lightly.
“I use my platform to impart life lessons. Many of my students have memorized Dr. Angelou’s quote: ‘Nothing works unless you do.’ I use it frequently,” she said.
Teaching in Statesboro was also beneficial as she was raising her two daughters, Imani and Nia, and appreciated having a schedule that would allow her flexibility to care for them.
After years of teaching in Bulloch County schools, Lewis says she is aware of inequalities that exist, but has been fortunate to not have her own personal encounter with discrimination. She mentions feeling pained watching others suffer at the indignity of discrimination like the manner in which the “late Dr. Bonnie Gamble was treated when she was moved from Langston Chapel to Southeast Bulloch. There seems to be a careless disregard when it comes to our needs. I don’t believe that someone of the lighter persuasion would have been treated that way,” she said.
There remain residual effects from decisions like these and the public views these as barriers to achieving racial harmony.
As a parent, she has had to become assertive and object to decisions teachers made about her daughter’s abilities.
“In the past, I have found it necessary to conference with a couple of my daughter’s teachers for what I knew was unfair treatment. One instance that I remember in particular: When we moved here from Atlanta, both my daughters had already tested into the QUEST Gifted Program (in the Dekalb County Public School system). However, when I registered them for school here in Bulloch County, they claimed not to have test scores for Nia. I pursued the matter and refused to have my daughter tested again. I knew the truth would prevail, but it was the principle of the matter. My daughters watched me stand for them,” she said.
Her students view her as an advocate for their education, too.
Dallas Wilson, a previous student, said, “Ms. Lewis was a great mentor while I was a member of the YouNique Mentoring Organization. She helped me grow out of my shell, and she continues to be an excellent friend as I continue to go through life. She brings positivity and light into a room when she enters. She is an excellent educator who taught me for five years and encourages me to strive for greatness.”
In her work to continue to look at the positive, Lewis admits that, “I’ve been ‘purposely’ overlooked while waiting in a line or watched too intently while shopping, but I believe that many of us numb ourselves to the subtle injustices and just move on through life. I address the issue, make a mental note and take my business elsewhere.”
While acknowledging these experiences, Lewis still says, “I am proud of Bulloch County. It’s not a perfect place, but there are many good-hearted people here and there is promise in our tomorrows because of those people. Our faith is what has sustained us for centuries. It’s important that we support community as opposed to chaos.”
There is hope for brighter days ahead, and we show our students they make a difference. Lewis’ positive perspective that she shares with her students is that with “the election of a Black mayor, community efforts that embrace and include people of mixed ethnicities, protests that include representation from all races, and students (for the most part) who are particularly inclusive of one another,” we can make Statesboro the kind of place you really want to live and thrive.
Her hope is that our current and future students will continue to push Bulloch County toward increased racial harmony, and we are proud that she is a part of that vision in making a difference.