For Ananda Lewis (B.A. ’95), there was something magical about attending Howard in the 90s, especially when the G-funk sound of her hometown enveloped the campus.
“Well, being a Californian at Howard when [Dr. Dre’s] ‘The Chronic’ [and] Snoop’s ‘Doggystyle’ dropped, that was a whole other kind of experience. [Me and my friends] were like, what? That’s [our] music. So [we] were very territorial about those albums,” recalls the Los Angeles native, who says her fingers were “stuck” in the “Westside” sign.
“What’s funny is we were on the east coast, so in somebody else’s house. But we were walking around like we owned it,” Lewis said. “That was the energy we were giving.”
There was this group of us that came out of Howard from the nineties era that were just different...”
Lewis says she was a rebellious teenager who craved change and she chose Howard, frankly, to “be around Black folks.”
“I definitely see life from the humanistic kind of perspective where we’re all connected and all the same, and yet we have a real separation that happens culturally that’s also wonderful and valid and real,” she says.
Although her mother wasn’t thrilled with her being 3,000 miles from home, Lewis adds, “Going to Howard made me feel invincible. I literally focused on that application, and every single step of it, I was like, this is what I’m doing.”
To help support herself financially, the history major and theater minor was awarded swimming scholarships and worked jobs in the dean of student affairs’ office and Tower Records.
“I was always working to hold on to Howard, and it was so important to me not to fail. It also gave me the community I sought,” she recalls. “They probably still do this, but [at] the president’s gathering of all the new students and they say, ‘Look to your left and look to your right. One of these people is not gonna be here at the end of the year. Don’t let it be you.’ And I took that very seriously. I was like, ‘Oh yeah, it’s not gonna be me.’”
At age 50, Lewis is still stunning, even while battling stage two breast cancer. Although she has opted not to have surgery, she encourages women to get mammograms and she is determined to survive and thrive.
“The way I’ve chosen to handle it mandates that I keep my foot on the gas and that I am constantly working [the cancer] out of my systems,” she explains.
Based on her natural health regimen, Lewis has developed a workshop called Age Slow. She says, “One of the blessings hidden within [my] cancer journey was discovering that many of the things I do for saving my life made me look, I don’t know about younger, but certainly good for my age.”
The O.G. host from BET’s Teen Summit and MTV’s Total Request Live has fond memories of Howard, where, in addition to her membership on the swim team, she modeled in Homecoming fashion shows, performed with the Hip Hop Arts Movement, and was featured in the music video filmed on campus for Howard R&B group Shai’s song, “Baby, I’m Yours.”
“Puffy was in the Howard universe when I was there. Marlon Wayans [and] Taraji [P. Henson] were there. Some of these years overlap differently, more or less. But there was this group of us that came out of [Howard] from the nineties era that were just different somehow,” reflects the former veejay.
“Maybe it was because there was this surging of our music, so there was a platform to get onto. And maybe it was just because we were this generation who had lived through seeing like the Gulf War and the reality of life was clarifying itself for us. So many of us came out of [Howard] at that time who really took it by the horns and rode it.”
These days, Lewis enjoys being out of the limelight. She keeps a box of mementos from her Alma Mater, including her cap and gown, to share with her 12-year-old son. Although it’s been a minute, a trip to the Yard for Homecoming may be in her near future.
“My friends go all the time,” she says. “So I might piggyback and bring my son.”