In green cap and gown, a broad smile on her face, Tynesha Lewis proudly strolled across the stage at her high school commencement. In the audience of Blanche Ely High School in Pompano Beach, her family cheered.
“Another proof that God worked things out for us,” said her aunt, Willie Heath.
Once a child in a troubled home, Lewis almost didn’t make it. Until 1998, her life in Pompano Beach was framed by her parents’ negligence, violence and drug intake.
That year, Judy Lewis, her mother, overdosed but survived, leaving Lewis and her five siblings in the care of social workers who intervened after Judy was taken to the hospital.
Heath, divorced and with seven grown-up children of her own, took a leap of faith and welcomed the children into her home. The youngest, Ruthie, was only two years old.
“They were part of me and I wanted to make sure they were taken care of,” said Heath, whose parents moved from Arkansas to Florida when she was little girl.
Circumstances separated Heath from her brother, Will (Lewis’ father), and their other four siblings for 40 years.
“I did not want those kids to miss their childhood together; I did not want that to happen again in our family.”
Heath, 64, has worked full time as an electronics assembler in Coral Springs for the past 21 years. After the courts gave her full custody of the children, she received $239 per child each month for Tynesha, as well as for Will and Ruthie, her brother’s children. Public housing and the $1,000 a month she earned on her job helped her to provide for the three others, children from Judy’s first marriage.
Heath said she kept the six children on track by making sure that they never missed a day at school. She called home everyday from work to make sure they were safe and made a point of the family having dinner together every night.
This sense of normalcy helped Lewis put her life back into perspective.
“I became the type of person who saw bad things going on around me, but understood I should not get involved,” she said.
A participant of the National Achievers Society of the Urban League of Broward County, Lewis will, this fall, enroll at Broward College on a 2-year scholarship sponsored by the not-for-profit organization.
“Tynesha has a solid foundation from her aunt on how to be responsible and knows that if you do the right thing, God continues to bless you,” said Gabrielle Tunnage, director of the NAS. “This scholarship will move her forward in the light of giving back to the community.”
Tynesha, 19, wants to be a social worker.
“I have a passion for helping people,” says Lewis, who graduated high school with a 4.2 GPA.
Her recollections of her parent’s substance abuse are still vivid — she remembers the drinking, the smoking, and several violent episodes.
“They would get crazy in the head,” she said,”…beat us with a belt, make us walk in the rain.”
Lewis said her father visits on a regular basis. Her mother — her relationship with the children severely frayed — hasn’t called or visited since 2001, when she moved to South Carolina.
Lewis said she has come to terms with her parents’ shortcomings.
“I learned to forgive them and move on,” she said.
“I’m happy with who I am now, I believe there’s a reason why this all happened.”