When the New Jersey Department of Motor Vehicles gave Florida guard Scottie Lewis his driver’s license in high school, his mother and grandmother gave him a list. On that piece of paper were different places they warned the then-16-year-old not to drive around.
Why? His skin color.
“You can’t drive through these places,” Lewis said, repeating the words of his mother and grandmother who feared his well being if he wandered to those blacklisted areas. “You can’t have this experience like these people.”
This list, as well as racial inequality and a variety of other factors, inspired Lewis to not just participate in social movements, but to lead them. The sophomore acted on his desire to lead. He was at the forefront of marches in his hometown of Hazlet, New Jersey, following George Floyd’s death, and in Gainesville in the aftermath of Jacob Blake’s shooting.
His leadership skills in this fight against injustice come from something else his mother taught him.
“When something needs to be said, you say it,” Lewis said. “I don’t go into situations expecting to be handed a mic, but I’m always prepared.”
Even without a microphone, Lewis’ voice rings louder than the average person because of basketball. But he’s more than an athlete.
“Regardless of how high I can jump or how fast I can run, or the height I can catch a basketball or a football, if I get pulled over by the cops, they’re not going to care that much,” Lewis said,
And even beyond police brutality surrounding the Black community, Lewis is concerned about racial inequality as a whole. Throughout his life and up to now, he has felt that sting of being alone.
“There are moments, even now, I’ll look around and I’m the only Black kid here,” Lewis said. “And it’s usually a place where it’s higher learning, it’s usually a place where people are making large amounts of money.”
Lewis experienced both perspectives. Throughout his early childhood, he attended 10 different elementary schools and four different middle schools — all were in lower-income communities. With his parents never marrying, he moved from shelter to shelter and home to home.
Then, in high school, he attended the Ranney School, a wealthier private school in Tinton Falls, New Jersey, to play basketball.
The 20-year-old from the Bronx, now heading into his second year at Florida, has used that education to fight against racial oppression so far, but the idea is to keep the conversation moving for years to come. He wants this time to be different from past fights against the same things that have withered away in time.
“One thing that scares me is that history in America and all over the world has repeated itself,” Lewis said. “If we go into this hole where we’re reverting back to doing everything we were doing before, all the work that we’re doing now won’t matter later.”
Contact Graham Marsh at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @GrahamMarshUF.