Black News and Black Views with a Whole Lotta Attitude
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Black News and Black Views with a Whole Lotta Attitude
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Vanessa Rochelle Lewis


Vanessa Rochelle Lewis

Founding director of Reclaim U.G.L.Y:​​ Uplift, Glorify, and Love Yourself

Sector:CommunityAge: 37Oakland, Calif.

As founding director of Reclaim U.G.L.Y., Black, queer, artist and activist Vanessa Rochelle Lewis is redefining what it means to be beautiful to create a more inclusive, equitable society.

When Vanessa Rochelle Lewis was 15, a backhanded compliment from an algebra teacher triggered a moment of clarity that would define her life's work: "Wow, Vanessa, you may not look like Beyonce, but you sure can write a moving poem," her teacher said. "By telling me that I did not look like her while affirming my ability to write a compelling poem, he was making it clear that I did not fit into society's understanding of beauty, and therefore I also did not fit into his," Lewis wrote. "No longer was I a teenage girl, proud of my poem. I was now a teenage girl conscious of the fact that my math teacher did not find me attractive and did not think the world would find me attractive either." Years later, Lewis—who describes herself as "a Queer, Fat, Black, Femme performer, facilitator, educator, writer, activist, healer, joyful weirdo, and Faerie Princess Mermaid Gangsta for The Revolution"—founded Reclaim U.G.L.Y:​​ Uplift, Glorify, and Love Yourself, an organization that campaigns against "uglification" and works to promote more inclusive spaces for marginalized communities. In 2019, when an L.A. party promoter created a meme mocking Lewis' appearance, the South Los Angeles native responded by launching the first annual UGLY conference. Reclaim UGLY carried on its mission when the pandemic hit in 20202 by hosting Solidarity Healing September, an online, monthlong, racial justice heal-in/teach-in, and Black Healing October, free, monthlong, online healing workshops for Black people by Black people. Last month, Lewis, a former writer and co-managing editor for feminist magazines Everyday Feminism & Black Girl Dangerous, released her book, "Reclaiming UGLY! Uplift, Glorify, and Love Yourself—and Create a World Where Others Can as Well."

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