Tiffany Lewis wants to leave a legacy — for her children, her grandchildren and beyond.
That desire, coupled with a growing compulsion to speak up when things aren’t right, have inspired her to launch her own business as a consultant: Legacy Work LLC.
“This is my chance to live my ancestors’ wildest dreams and fight for the things that they were never able to fight for for themselves,” she said. “… It’s not a game for me. It’s for me to use my voice to do something better and to leave this world better than it was.”
Lewis, a registered nurse, said she specifically wants to dismantle systems and break down barriers related to health care gaps.
She started her medical career in the private sector in Alabama and Georgia, and she got into public health when she moved to Kansas City, Missouri. There, she served as director of clinical nursing for Samuel U. Rodgers Health Center from 2015-2019, and she was working until May 2021 as chief operations officer for Heartland Community Health Center, a safety-net clinic in Lawrence.
Lewis mentioned the east-west divide of Douglas County: statistically, residents of eastern and northern Lawrence have a shorter life expectancy than residents of the western part of the city and county by eight years.
“We have issues that we need to stop acting like we don’t and start really getting to the root of the problem. And that’s what my hope is, at least for the health care sector.”
In addition, many people in Lawrence and beyond are uninsured or underinsured, including many who lost their insurance since the pandemic started. They’re left without affordable health care and medication, Lewis said; people who “never thought in a million years they would be without insurance” are suddenly devastated because life as they knew it is gone.
The numbers of those in need of support services has grown exponentially, Lewis said, and she wants difficult conversations about addressing these systemic issues to continue. She also wants to see that a diverse group of people from all walks of life are sitting at the table when those conversations occur.
“I’m simply trying to be a voice for those that have lost their voice in Lawrence, and I get emotional about it,” she said, her voice cracking. “But Lawrence is not as inclusive as it’s portrayed, and I’m here to fight for those people that don’t have anybody that can fight for them, whether they look like me or not. That’s what this company was started on.”
Lewis had filed a racial discrimination complaint against Heartland Community Health Center and she was pursuing legal action when she was dismissed. On Thursday, she said that all she’s legally able to say about the situation now is that “The parties have resolved the matter to their mutual satisfaction.”
But no one can tell her what she can and can’t say in Legacy Work.
“In this work, no one can silence me but me, because I own it. In this work, no one can tell me that I can’t stand up for what’s right, because I own it.
“This is my metamorphosis to becoming a better advocate and to becoming a better community member, and to right some of the wrongs that I’ve allowed to happen in things I’ve seen over my life. … I’m trying to end these latter years of my life doing the right thing.”
She said Legacy Work is willing to help anybody who wants to dismantle systemic issues.
“Douglas County right now is a part of the system,” she said. “Part of everything I went through, Heartland included, has really made me passionate about wanting to do this work.”
“… Our community needs to stop this systemic bullcrap. It’s alive and real in our jail; it’s alive and real in our suspension rate; it’s alive and real in how we treat people in the hospital. It is embedded in Lawrence. We say we’re the blue dot in a red state, but we’re really not.”
Though she recently launched the website and just made a public announcement of the business this week, Lewis signed her first Legacy Work client in October. She said she now has some clients in Florida, Alabama, and Kansas City, Missouri.
Lewis is working to balance her full-time job, seeking a master’s degree, often running vaccine clinics on weekends, and more. Some family members have helped out as she’s launched her startup — a dream she’s had for seven or eight years, she said — on top of it all.
Among those family members is her husband, Anthony Lewis, superintendent of Lawrence Public Schools. He’s prominently listed on the website as a co-founder, but she said his role is just in support. Their ownership of the company is an 80-20 split.
“Anthony has nothing to do with the clients. Being a married couple, anything that we go into, we go into together. But that vision on the website is all me,” Lewis said. “… He doesn’t do anything for Legacy Work other than talking to his wife and supporting his wife — what I’ve done for him for the last 11 years.”
Some word of the business had started to spread, and family and friends were aware of what was going on, but she had not made a big public announcement yet in Lawrence. She chose to do that on Wednesday, which was 2-2-22.
Lewis shared the significance of the number 2 in her life. Just to name a few ways the number comes up: she is a twin, though her brother died in September 2020. She and her husband each had two kids when they married — second marriages for both of them — and they have two children together.
“Two for us means, ‘Here we are, finding our strength from within. Our second time at this and we’re really making a difference,’” she said. “… Two for us is a new beginning.”
Find more information about Legacy Work on its website.
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Mackenzie Clark (she/her), reporter/founder of The Lawrence Times, can be reached at mclark (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com or 785-422-6363. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.
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