Tony Lewis, Dorchester

“I’ve had many mentors, and continue to have many mentors along the way. Whatever I find I’m interested in, I usually go find an old timer who can show me, and I’ll start there.

When I started doing leatherwork, there was a group of older brothers and sisters that was up and coming. I think I encountered them through one of my best friends, Neil. They were exploring their cultural identity—venturing back into their African consciousness. I used to go by their shop and hang out with them and watch them doing the leatherwork. I understand geometry, and I used to watch how they were doing the geometric application. I looked at it so much that I wanted to do it.

My leatherwork, my drawing, my painting, my writing—those things I learned here, and is inspired by what goes on here. And what I see, it keeps me inspired.

Life is a soul-nurturing journey, and to me, the things that you do in life, those are your lines of nurturing that you contribute to your community. So these are things that I explore. People like jewelry, so I make jewelry. I’m also a carpenter, a master builder, so I give that service to the community. And whatever I do, I teach it, I practice it, and I find my contentment—because I get to learn, I get to practice, and I get to pass on.

A lot of people don’t teach. They can present you with information, but they don’t teach.

I have adults who would like to get their high school diploma—they don’t have nobody to relate to them, and teach them something without beating them over their heads and telling them they’re stupid. So I’ll be playing music with them, and I’ll get them in a sidebar conversation. I had this master drummer from Senegal. He’s in his 60s. He confided in me that he wants to get his high school diploma. He’s got issues with learning, and he knows what I do, and so he’s like, “Will you teach me?”

I have kids that ask me to teach them math. I quiz them on stuff, and they tell me they need to learn that, so I’m working on some type of system to teach them how to understand math, and how it relates to their environment, so that it always reminds them, so they don’t forget it.

It’s like the tree and the streetlight. If we didn’t have a tree with a branch hanging off, we wouldn’t have been inspired to put the light on the pole. And if the sun wasn’t up in the sky, we wouldn’t have been inspired to invent the light bulb.  Math is the mechanics of rhythm, and all things exist in a rhythm.”

Tony was interviewed and photographed by story ambassador George Powell. The interview was then transcribed and edited for length, clarity and flow by Cara Solomon, founder of Everyday Boston, in partnership with George. Cara wrote the intro text.