Speaker: Stephen Lewis

Listening for the Sound of the Genuine and the Sacred: Excavating Ancestral Wisdom

Stephen Lewis, a social catalyst of community transformation and healing, was shaped by the classroom and medicine making activities that existed within his grandparents' kitchen. Without a college education, Stephen's grandparents held degrees in the practice of hospitality, leadership formation, and business. They were wise elders, farmers, food alchemists, educators, and community healers who imparted wisdom about life, the Sacred, and responsibility to family, friends, and neighbors who visited, ate, or graced their kitchen.

Today, Stephen leads and instigates change and healing in faith communities, higher education, and social entrepreneurship. He is an innovative, organizational change strategist and a leadership development specialist serving as president of the Forum for Theological Exploration (FTE). He is also creator of DO GOOD X, an accelerator and a community of support designed for underrepresented and under-resourced social entrepreneurs who are passionate about developing businesses that do good in the world. He has co-authored Another Way: Living and Leading Change on Purpose and A Way Out of No Way: An Approach to Christian Innovation.

During the past 20 years, Stephen has worked to inspire the next generation of artists, healers, freedom fighters, faith-inspired leaders, and entrepreneurs to live and work on purpose. What he learned and experienced in his grandparents' kitchen continues in his work of cultivating faith-rooted change-makers and centering BIPOC leaders' diverse, lived experiences, religious practices, and reflections on the Sacred.

As a deeply curious individual driven to widen his understanding of God, calling, purpose, and mental health, Stephen leads with the desire to inspire, encourage, and form a new generation who yearns "for ancient wisdom that can withstand the big questions, worthy dreams, and severe tests of resilience and perseverance that greet or confront them daily." Through the years, his curiosity led him to explore mystic traditions of Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and African-centered wisdom traditions and discernment practices, as he shares in Another Way.

The Late Elder Malidoma Some, innovator, spiritual teacher, and expansive thinker, reminded Stephen of his formation and the seeds that were planted in him by his grandparents and the generations before them: "What you woke up to is not something that is external to you. It's internal. It's your nature. It's who you are...The time has come because your ancestors have woken you up to a plan that you must take to heart...You are cut for this work. You have been cut all along. You needed something to fire you up in the direction of bringing your gift to the community in your work, which has to do with healing."

Stephen has a background in business and finance and is an ordained minister with a Master of Divinity degree from the Divinity School at Duke University. In addition, he is a sacred herbalist and student of Master Herbalist Karen Rose and Sifu Falokun Fasegun. Stephen has reclaimed "the spiritual giftedness of his own twoness -- being both African and American" by excavating the African spiritual wisdom and genius that runs through his blood and is rooted in Burkina Faso and Nigeria. Further noted in Another Way, Stephen explains, "Why? Because this is the soil that birthed the soul of the Black church and its syncretized expressions of spirituality, and that in turn made possible the survival of Black people in this country. These sources nourished a communal sense of purpose, steeped in the multi-generational resistance and resilience of freedom fighters, warrior-healers, and dream defenders working to create a better life for future generations."

One of Stephen's guides and theologian, mystic, and philosopher, Rev. Dr. Howard Thurman, shares in his 1980 baccalaureate speech at Spelman College:

There is something in every one of you that waits, listens for the genuine in yourself--and if you cannot hear it, you will never find whatever it is for which you are searching and if you hear it and then do not follow it, it were better that you had never been born. You are the only you that has ever lived; your idiom is the only idiom of its kind in all the existences, and if you cannot hear the sound of the genuine in you, you will all of your life spend your days on the ends of strings that somebody else pulls.

Stephen's journey and experiences have led him to connect with the Sacred and to be intentional about listening for the "sound of the genuine" within. In doing so, he follows his ancestral call illuminated to him through a vivid dream: "Fear less. Retrieve the ancestral gifts entombed in the graves of your community. Share this healing wisdom to create a more hopeful future for others."

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