Alexus Lewis, 20, led the Voices of Hope Rally and march on June 3 in Crestview.
CRESTVIEW – Alexus Lewis was in the fourth grade at Bob Sikes Elementary School when she had her first crush on a white boy. One day, she decided to tell him.
“He told me he didn’t like Black people,” Lewis said.
Lewis is white, Black and Dominican. But to that fourth grade boy, she was just Black.
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“It all starts with the parents,” Lewis said. “What you do, your kids are looking at you. You have to raise your kids right. They’re our future generation.”
Lewis moved to Tampa and then back to Crestview just after she turned 18. It wasn’t long before she encountered racism again.
Lewis, her brother and three of their white friends were on their way to play basketball at an open gym a week before she was supposed to start basic training for the U.S. Army. The door was locked and they got back in the car only to realize they were blocked in by a sheriff’s vehicle.
As the oldest person in the car, Lewis got out.
“He was like, ‘Oh you’re breaking into the school,’ ” Lewis said. “I was like, ‘We just came to play basketball.’ I was caught off guard because I was wearing a very pink shirt, shorts and carrying a book. I didn’t know this was breaking and entering attire.”
From that point on, the officer only questioned Lewis and her brother – none of the white passengers, she said. Lewis and her brother sat on the ground while their friends got out of the car.
“He wasn’t paying any attention to them,” Lewis said. “He didn’t care that they got out of the car.”
Lewis’ brother stood up and was immediately detained, so Lewis started filming on her cellphone.
“He literally comes after me, snatches my arm up,” Lewis said. “His handprint was on my arm for two days. I snatched my arm back.”
Lewis was arrested for resisting the officer, but the charges didn’t go through, she said. She still wasn’t able to enlist.
Since then, Lewis has seen similar scenarios play out with her friends. One black friend was arrested and charged for possession of marijuana around the same time a white friend was pulled over with more marijuana and left with a warning, she said.
Now 20, Lewis has a jaded impression of police, but she tries to keep an open mind.
“I know we need police in this world,” Lewis said. “I know there are good police. All cops aren’t bad. All cops aren’t racist. Just like I know all white people aren’t racist and all black people aren’t thugs.”
Lewis thinks racism in law enforcement is one of the community’s biggest concerns.
“There has to be more interaction,” Lewis said. “The police have to humanize themselves — not making them these big bad guys with a badge and all this authority. They have to humanize themselves and show that even though they’re police, they’re still apart of this community and we’re all in this together. On our side, we’re going to have to break that stereotype that all cops are bad.”
Lewis hesitated to watch the video of Floyd’s death, because of the emotions it would provoke. The day she watched it was the same day she decided to organize the Voices of Hope rally and march in Crestview – her first time organizing an event of that kind.
“It was a lot of anger,” Lewis said. “It’s that feeling you get when you see something, like you see a homeless person and you know you can’t do anything to help them – a hopeless feeling. Like nothing you will do will ever change the outcome.
“I felt like somebody should step up. I decided to be the peaceful voice.”
The Voices of Hope Rally and march began at the Historic Bush House and ended at Twin Hills Park.
It encouraged Lewis that Crestview Mayor JB Whitten and Chief of Police Stephen McCosker collaborated on the event.
“They actually got in contact with me,” Lewis said. “In their words, they were waiting on somebody from our community to be a leader, so they could help put it together.”
From what Lewis has heard, not everyone in the community appreciated the collaboration. Some felt like Lewis had been coerced into organizing it with their help.
“It was definitely my choice,” Lewis said. “Nobody’s going to force me to do anything. It was my event. They helped us. I think people should be happier we have community leaders who are supportive.”
Lewis also heard backlash that some people didn’t appreciate how they marched under the bridge.
“They felt like we were being seen enough,” Lewis said. “The whole purpose of the event wasn’t to be seen; it was to be heard. Our city leaders — the people who can make change — were there, so I felt like we were heard. The event turned out peaceful, no kids were being hurt. It was very successful to me.”
Lewis is a housekeeper and inspector in Destin. She doesn’t know many people in Crestview, so she was surprised by the turnout.
“It was amazing that everybody could come out and support a cause not knowing the person who’s hosting, not caring about anything but the cause – being together and uniting,” Lewis said. “It was amazing, so much fire. It made me want to do another protest the day after.”
Lewis is already planning another event to unite the community. Leadership is something she might consider now.
“A lot of younger kids were out there and they were coming up to me saying I inspired them and that they looked up to me,” Lewis said. “It made me want to do more good for my community.”