Soulardarity, Highland Park, MI
Miss Margaret interviewed by Grace Brosnan '20
The first time I met Miss Margaret Lewis was when a Soulardarity member named Cindy and I were walking around Highland Park, MI knocking on the doors of other Soulardarity members to get them to go to the annual member meeting. Cindy was excited when we arrived at Miss Margaret’s house. We had been dealing with a lot of people who weren’t glad to be bothered on a Saturday afternoon, but, as Cindy explained, Miss Margaret would be happy to see us. I had heard of Miss Margaret as a hard-working, caring, and dedicated leader. We knocked on the door and heard a cheerful and inquisitive “hello?” After explaining who we were, and waiting a few moments, the door opened. She hugged me on sight, no need for explanation of who I was. The fact that I was a young person involved in Soulardarity was enough to warrant a hug from Miss Margaret. I interacted with her a few more times while I was in Highland Park, but not as much as I would have liked to. So, when I was told to interview someone who was related to my internship, I knew this was my chance to get to know Miss Margaret.
Miss Margaret has never been one to let others decide how she will live her life. Well before she considered herself an activist, she sued the State of Michigan to stop them from contracting out court stenographer jobs. Having spent her entire adult life working as a court stenographer, she knew how courts worked, and she won the case. She got her start in local politics by advocating for herself against the city of Highland Park when they were over-charging her for water. It was 1999, and she had just retired from court stenography, but Miss Margaret had no intention of retiring from civic life. So, she sued the city, won the case, and went on to run for city councilor and to start a city newspaper. Her advice to young people is to get involved in local politics because “politics is what runs our lives.”
Miss Margaret says it was her family that inspired her to get involved in politics. At a young age, her mother would point out injustices to her and her sister, such as not being served at a restaurant, or having a school in their neighborhood almost closed. Her mother fought the school closure and won. Her father was a delegate for a political party, and her older sister was a member of a youth chapter of the NAACP. From her family, she learned to “not dwell on placing blame on people, but [to] dwell on addressing whatever the problems seem to be.” I like this advice because of the two instructions it sets out for us: to address the systemic problems, and to “dwell” on addressing those problems. To dwell is to think through, not to act too quickly, and to act with intention.
Miss Margaret hasn’t solved every problem, though, and she’s honest about that. “People…don’t seem to think that they can make a difference.” But she’s not complaining, she’s just setting up the problem to be solved. “I haven’t come up with anything yet. But for me, persistence is the most important part of my life.” And she has persisted, through apathy, push-back, and disbelief that anything can change. Looking at Highland Park now, the positive changes that Miss Margaret has created are evident: more streetlights, a new city charter, a more engaged populace, and a kinder neighborhood. What she’s most proud of is being a positive force in people’s lives--of being the one who people think of when they want something good to happen.
When asked how she’d like to be remembered, she answered “remembered? I haven’t given any thought to being remembered.” Miss Margaret doesn’t do the work to create a legacy, she does the work because it needs to be done. She works for the sake of her community, to show that she appreciates the community. And through her 82 years, she has done that. But now that she has finished the work of rewriting the city charter, “it is my intention to devote most of my time to my own needs.” Whether she will take a break, or whether she will find herself once again pulled into working for her community, remains to be seen.
When asked for her final thoughts or advice, she thought for a bit, and then said, “oh, I guess really, just being grateful for all of the blessings that one receives, and living in a way that shows that you appreciate all of the kindnesses, and love, and help that you receive from people.” After some thought on what she’d like her legacy to be, she decided she’d like to be remembered as “a person who contributed whatever skills she had…when there seemed to be a need for them.” And what more has she done through her life, than used her skills and shown through her actions that she is grateful for humanity?
I’m grateful that she let me interview her, and I hope in the future I can be in Highland Park and hear more of her advice.
—Grace Brosnan '20