African-American art, history and culture have been a part of Shantrelle Lewis’ life, almost as long as she can recall. “I was immersed in history and culture by my family,” Lewis said. “My father would make me write out my family tree. I could go back to my great-, great-grandparents, and a little further.” Which is how she knew that she is a descendant of Henri Christophe, who in 1811 was named the first king of the newly free Haiti.
“My parents bought me books about black history, African history when I was 5 years old,” she said. “I knew who Toussaint L’Overture was, Cinque and Harriet Tubman were. They wanted me to know I did not come from enslaved people, but from warriors and revolutionaries. They were instilling pride in me.”
It worked. A New Orleans native, Lewis, 32, received a bachelor’s degree in African American History from Howard University in 2000 and a master’s in the same discipline from Temple University in 2006. She has taught African-American history in a Washington charter school and worked at three African-American-themed museums, one of which, The George and Leah McKenna Museum of African American Art in New Orleans, she helped revitalize after Hurricane Katrina devastated the city.
For just over a year, the Brooklyn resident has been director of Programs & Exhibitions at the Franklin H. Williams Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute in Manhattan.