History and helping with Birmingham icon, Dr. Jesse J. Lewis, Sr.

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Dr. Jesse J. Lewis through the years. Photo via Agency 54

Dr. Jesse J. Lewis, Sr. is a force to be reckoned with, as a World War II veteran, the first Black Alabama cabinet member, chairman of Agency 54, Birmingham Times Publisher Emeritus, and many more things. On February 25, Agency 54 hosted a “Conversation of Influence” with Dr. Jesse Lewis and Spire Energy’s Joe Hampton to discuss Lewis’s life, wisdom and new book, One Man’s Opinion: Together We Can Do This.

A local living legend

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Dr. Jesse Lewis spoke with Joe Hampton of Spire Energy. Photo via Agency 54

Joe Hampton, President of Alabama, Gulf Coast and Mississippi for Spire, gave the introduction of Lewis and guided the conversation about Lewis’s life. He made it clear how incredible it is to be able to discuss career advice, history, and lifelong priorities with a man as profound as Jesse Lewis.

Lewis himself has made some history, both locally and nationally. In 1954, he founded Jesse J. Lewis & Associates, the first Black-owned PR and marketing firm in the US. He still works at the firm, now called Agency 54. He also helped found The Birmingham Times in 1963, and now serves as Publisher Emeritus.

Dedication to education

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Dr. Jesse Lewis at an event. Photo via Agency 54

Northport, Alabama native Dr. Jesse Lewis has a storied career. He dropped out of high school in the ninth grade and soon after joined the military to fight in World War II. After leaving the military, he returned to complete high school, and now has five degrees. He puts a strong emphasis on education, having graduated from Miles College, Troy University and Atlanta University, and studying at the University of Alabama and New York University.

As he said, “I have never taken a job where I couldn’t go to school.”

Now at 96, Lewis intends to continue his education, saying last night that he has applied to Harvard University’s law school, and expects to hear back from them any day now. Dr. Lewis’s determination is truly an inspiration.

Living through history

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Dr. Lewis celebrating his legacy in a 2019 Christmas parade. Photo via Agency 54

At 96, Dr. Jesse Lewis has seen a lot. He has lived through both the Civil Rights Movement and the Black Lives Matter movement. Spire Energy’s Joe Hampton asked him how he felt about both movements.

Dr. Lewis replied that he feels both are similar, and both the Civil Rights Movement and the Black Lives Matter movement strive to accomplish similar goals.

He added that during the Civil Rights movement, he made the decision to launch the Birmingham Times, as a way to bring the news to Black Birmingham citizens.

“During the Civil Rights movement, I founded The Birmingham Times newspaper, and the reason for that was that I wanted to make sure that the Black people in Birmingham have the opportunity to get the news. We had a special column in there for the young people… We spent a lot of time telling the story of Black people being successful. we wanted to make sure that Black people were getting the same thing as everybody else.”

Dr. Jesse J. Lewis, Sr.

In his own words

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Dr. Lewis’s book, One Man’s Opinion: Together We Can Do This. Photo via onemansopinionbook.com

In 2020, Dr. Jesse Lewis published his first book, One Man’s Opinion: Together We Can Do This, a book on entrepreneurship aimed at Black youth looking to get ahead in their careers. The book imparts much of the wisdom he has gained over the past 96 years.

One bit of advice that Lewis was adamant about in his discussion with Joe Hampton was asking for help. Below is some of his sage advice:

“When you sit down, and you’re doing something, find somebody to help. If you want some help, you will be amazed at how many people come to the table if you don’t pretend you know everything.”

Dr. Jesse J. Lewis, Sr.

Learn more about Lewis and his new book, One Man’s Opinion, here. And check out Agency 54 | The Lewis Group here.

Find out more about Joe Hampton and Spire Energy here.

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Claire Hancock
Claire Hancock
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