Twenty nine-year-old Kevin Lewis serves as the go-between for the Black community and the White House. Rising from campaign assistant to White House press assistant to the Director of African American Media for the White House, the Brooklyn native and New York University graduate ensures that the Black media outlets have access to the White House and that our issues are effectively communicated and addressed.
In an interview with EBONY.com, Kevin revealed his unlikely road to the White House and what he hopes to achieve as the liaison between the president and the people.
EBONY: You've actually been working for President Obama for over 5 years now starting out on his presidential exploratory committee back in early 2007. What was it about then-Senator Obama that inspired you to get involved in his campaign?
KEVIN LEWIS: After graduating from NYU, I was on an academic achievement program listserv and I read an announcement for recent graduates who were interested in politics or campaigning created by then-Senator Obama called “Yes We Can”.
I saw his 2004 convention speech and thought, "This person is different." I ended up going to his book signing in Union Square and hearing him speak and when I went people were calling him President Obama -- that was 2005. I was completely blown away by that. I read his first book and I’d heard his speeches and he hit a tone that resonated with me early on.
But even then, working with him was so far from my mind. But a month later I saw the announcement on the listserv and I ended up applying for it. I almost didn't think that I had the traditional background for the program. Coming from a side block of a [housing] project in Brooklyn, it's almost like there’s a time warp. You can’t see beyond what’s in front of you and you can know every inch of your neighborhood, but [the world] doesn't go beyond that. You can live in New York – which is so full of everything – and still feel so limited. So I had this habit of limiting myself. But I had great mentors and great professors. Applying for the ‘Yes We Can” program seemed like this unattainable thing, but I just came to the decision that there’s nothing stopping me but me. So, I applied for it; I had a phone interview; they accepted me; and a month later, they flew me down to Washington, D.C. for this intensive training program.
The president is very concerned about the African American community and is in touch and is working towards solutions to the very real problems so many are facing; and we’re making real progress.
EBONY: And as a result of that program, your entire life changed. You’re being trained by the top political operatives and democratic strategists in the country, and then you go on to work for the Democratic National Committee. But then how did the opportunity to work on President Obama’s campaign in 2007 come about?
KL: Working in the compliance and operations department of the DCCC in 2006, I was able to be a part of the Democratic Party winning 30 seats in the House [of Representatives]. And from there, the press secretary for the Obama campaign asked me if I wanted to join the campaign. I knew if you're serious about working in politics then you work on a presidential campaign. I accepted the job and was on a plane to Chicago within a week. I really believed in then-Senator Obama and what he could do for our country and I wanted to be a part of that journey.
EBONY: And then you’re off seeing the world as a press assistant to the president and now as the Director of African American Media for the White House.
KL: Yes, the campaign let me see so much of the United States, but the White House let me see the whole world. I went to Singapore and to Germany, Mexico City, Saudi Arabia, Beijing, Shanghai --
EBONY: What was your favorite trip?
KL: Definitely going to South Africa with the First Lady. You can’t put into words what that feeling was like, just being there and hearing the people breaking out into songs of joy when they saw the First Lady. Just being in Africa and experiencing the people, history and culture was definitely one of the highlights I’ve had traveling for this job.
EBONY: How do you think the relationship between the White House and the African American community has changed since 2009?
The president has just been so much more accessible to the African American community. You've heard him on African American radio and we do several pieces for African American outlets. Both the president and our best spokesman, the First Lady, have done a phenomenal job in being extremely accessible and have done a lot to get the message out there that the Administration is listening. Our legislative affairs team works a lot with the [Congressional Black Caucus] and folks on the Hill to continue to