As an outstanding leader at UNC Charlotte and in the broader community, Janaka Bowman Lewis has claimed a slot in the Charlotte Business Journal’s 40 Under 40 Awards for 2020. Lewis is director of the Women’s and Gender Studies Program, an associate professor in English, and an affiliate faculty member in Africana studies.
Lewis is described as a dedicated teacher, a vibrant scholar, and a public intellectual who takes action on issues impacting women and girls through her professional work and personal commitment to community service.
“Dr. Lewis is a collaborator who is willing to work across departments and organizations,” the award nomination reads. “Her area of study – which she brings into the classroom and community – is African American cultural studies, with a particular focus on African American women. For Dr. Lewis, her teaching and scholarship go hand in hand.”
In summer 2019, Lewis was in residence at the National Humanities Center in the Research Triangle Park, working on a project about “Black Girlhood and the Power of Belonging” as one of about 40 scholars from across the nation chosen to do research in residency. The work focuses on the significance of representations of African American girls and social engagement in literature.
Another monograph, Freedom Narratives of African American Women: A Study of 19th-Century Writings, explores major African American women writers who wrote about the concept of freedom and citizenship during the mid-19th century. These women writers were responding to issues related to both gender and race.
Lewis joined UNC Charlotte’s Department of English in 2009, and since 2017 has directed the Women’s and Gender Studies Program, which includes a minor, a learning community, and varied projects in the community. Students, faculty, staff and alumni of the program have supported efforts to help women affected by physical and emotional trauma and collaborated with community organizations on educational and programming efforts.
Janaka Lewis has led the drafting of a proposal to establish a major in Women’s and Gender Studies. Lewis also collaborates with unit directors at other universities across the 17-campus UNC System to consider issues of gender equity at the schools and in public education.
She is respected as a mentor for students, including with students who are part of the UNC Charlotte Community Scholars summer research experience.
She has published four books and numerous peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapters. Her books include Brown All Over, Bold Nia Marie Passes the Test, the Until It’s Time essays collection, and Freedom Narratives of African American Women: A Study of 19th Century Writings, which was named a Choice Outstanding Academic Title and was the subject of a Personally Speaking community talk.
In the broader community, Lewis volunteers for the ANSWER Scholarship, where she served on its Professional Development Committee. ANSWER provides scholarships that help women from the Charlotte region who are raising school-age children to fulfill their dream of earning a college degree, while encouraging the recipients’ children to follow in their footsteps.
Lewis also served on the board for the Learning, Enrichment, and Achievement Program (LEAP), sponsored by the Eastside Development Organization. Lewis has also given talks and read her books to students at a number of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and Cabarrus County Schools.
Lewis is president of the Concord chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated, which is the oldest Black Women’s Greek letter organization founded in 1908. At 2018’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Conference, held at the Charlotte Convention Center, Lewis coordinated an initiative to collect hundreds of backpacks for schoolchildren in Charlotte. She partnered with Queen City Unity and Classroom Central for distribution of the backpacks to local students.