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UF's Lewis discusses social justice reform

By Graham Hall
Special to The Sun
Florida basketball player Scottie Lewis (middle in blue) leads a march for social justice in Gainesville last Friday.

Rather than be simply locked in a gym all summer — although there’s been plenty of training on his schedule — Florida men’s basketball sophomore Scottie Lewis has been one of the many protesting against this country’s racial divide. 

Lewis, 20, was front and center In New Jersey, where he signed with Florida as a five-star prospect, leading marches and making his voice heard during the offseason, and he hasn’t kept quiet nor slowed down now that he’s back in Gainesville gearing up for his second season of collegiate competition. 

Speaking with the media Wednesday for the first time since the end of his freshman season, Lewis didn’t hold back when discussing where he found his voice and just what drives him to speak up. 

“I just know when something needs to be said, you say it. That’s how my mom is, I definitely get that from my mom. She’s someone who speaks her mind at all times, and I kind of got that from her. She’s strong-willed and she’s powerful, raising five kids on her own, and she taught us so much, along with my grandmother, so they kind of grew me to be the person that I am and the leader that I aspire to be,” Lewis said. “I don’t go into certain situations and expect to be handed a mic, but I’m always prepared, for sure.”

Those situations seem to be happening more often as of late to the underclassmen. Lewis was handed a microphone Friday at the Bo Diddley Plaza in downtown Gainesville to share his message of positivity, education and empowerment as many of his teammates and fellow UF student-athletes joined the crowd of several hundred demonstrators.

While he’s not seeking the microphone out per se, Lewis is aware his perspective may resonate with a variety of people, regardless of their identification.

“I certainly think there were things that were normal for me that weren’t normal for the people I went to school with," he said. "Growing up, I went to 10 different elementary schools and four different middle schools before I even got to The Ranney School (N.J.). So I got to see a large spectrum of what it’s like to go to an inner-city school and transition to a wealthy school, a program like Ranney, and having to see both spectrums and see how people interact with each other. The difference in the education and how it’s being received and how it’s being perceived. Just little social rules you have to follow as a Black kid growing up. There were certain things I couldn’t do, and when I asked my mom why, it was simply because I didn’t look like my friends did. I couldn’t stay out past a certain time. I couldn’t drive my car in Wald, New Jersey, or in other places because of the racism. 

“When you first get your car in Jersey, there’s literally a list that my mom and my grandma gave me, when you get your car, don’t drive through these places. You can’t have experiences like these people.”

If there’s one thing Lewis, and many people of color, know all too well, it’s that racism, segregation and prejudice aren’t exclusive to corners or pockets of the country. Instead they’re often hiding in plain sight at, for example, academic institutions that ironically enough too often feature namesakes of those who promoted said evil — even in Gainesville, where the Reitz Union building continues to bear the name of a man quoted in 1988 with saying “anyone who was a homosexual was a complete aberration.”

Lewis said conversations with his teammates have helped the entire program become more educated this offseason, conversations he said the entire roster has embraced; much to the dismay of, sadly, many, there is no “shut up and dribble” mentality — a phrase Lewis called “probably the most ignorant thing I’ve ever heard” — within the confines of coach Mike White’s basketball program.

“There are moments, even now, I’ll look around and realize I’m the only Black kid here,” Lewis said, “and it’s usually in a place where it’s higher learning or it’s in a place where people are making large amounts of money and I don’t see people that look like me."

But slowly and steadily, that can change, and Lewis knows it. Aware it’s not a battle to be won overnight, and mindful he isn’t the first to fight against systemic racism or injustice in this country, Lewis is just looking to be part of the progress. 

“This is something that has been going on for years before me. Years before my mother’s generation, years before my grandmother’s situation, and generations down. I’m not going to be the person, or we’re not going to be the generation to end this, even though we would like to be. This is something that takes years and years and years, because it’s been going on for so long,” Lewis said. “How do you change minds, how do you move people, how do you implement certain things that will last a lifetime? That’s something that I have come to understand, this is a marathon that’s going to happen and continue after I’m dead. My main focus right now is how can I submit myself into my studies, how can I submit myself into other people and learning from other people and having them learn from me, and set a strong foundation for the people that are going to come after me and fight the same fight.”