[A photo of Jenifer Lewis. She has an afro and large hoop earrings. She is wearing a red sweater and black turtleneck shirt with black gloves. She is holding a microphone to her mouth and turned to the side with her head turned toward the camera.]

Celebrating Black History Month Part 1 of 3: Jenifer Lewis

February is Black History Month, a time to celebrate the achievements of Black people in the US. This is the first part of a series of three blog posts where we’ll learn about famous Black people with disabilities.

Jenifer Lewis, also known as the “Mother of Black Hollywood,” has had an amazing career as an actress, singer, and TV star, and she has recently starred in the TV series Black-ish. Born in a suburb near St. Louis, Missouri, she discovered her talent for performing by singing in her church choir.

After graduating from college, Lewis moved to New York City and got a role in a Broadway show called Eubie. She had her first TV breakthrough with guest appearances on popular sitcoms like Murphy Brown, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and Black-ish. She also starred in movies like The Preacher’s Wife, The Princess and the Frog, and What’s Love Got to Do with It.

In 1990, Lewis was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Though she received therapy and medication, she never mentioned her mental health until 2007. After a manic episode, a friend suggested that her emotional struggles were more than just her bipolar disorder.

Lewis had her first manic episode after her father’s death and admitted it was hard to accept having a problem. She mentioned the denial that comes with the disease, thinking everyone feels depressed. She encourages asking oneself why they feel a certain way and seeking help.

“It’s hard to accept that you have a problem,” Lewis said. “That’s another piece of the disease – the denial. You think everyone cries themselves to sleep. You should ask yourself why am I so depressed, why am I so angry with my children, angry with my partner…why am I depressed, or over the top?”

Jenifer Lewis now advocates for mental health. She talks openly about bipolar disorder and mental health through interviews, public appearances, and social media. She wants to break the stigma around mental health, highlighting the importance of seeking treatment, understanding, and empathy.

Creativity has been essential for Lewis in expressing and managing her emotions. Her music, especially her one-woman show “The Diva Is Dismissed,” reflects her resilience and creativity in facing mental health challenges. By sharing her experiences through art, she inspires others to find their own ways of expression.

In honoring Black History Month and learning about influential Black figures, Jenifer Lewis stands out not only for her impressive career but also for sharing her personal struggles. From her early days in Missouri to her success on Broadway and in movies and TV, Lewis has made a lasting impact on the entertainment industry. Her openness about living with bipolar disorder challenges stereotypes and positions her as a symbol of hope and strength.

Stay tuned for the next part of our Black History Month series as we continue exploring the achievements and stories of extraordinary Black individuals.