Alumni Spotlight: True Representation

Alumni spotlight with Michelle Lewis MSW '13.

Michelle Lewis header image
Alumna Michelle Lewis is the co-owner of Third Eye Books.

It only takes one glance to recognize that Third Eye Books Accessories & Gifts possesses a unique niche.

"Our first priority is to make sure our store focuses on Black authors – people that the African-American community can relate to who offer us an accurate reflection,” asserts co-owner Michelle Lewis (’13). “It’s really important to have our voices heard.”

Founded in 2019 by Lewis and her husband, Charles Hannah, Third Eye Books provides access to a huge array of reading materials not available at Pacific Northwest big box retailers. Their strategic emphasis on carrying books that center on Black history resonates with citizens across the region. Third Eye Books also won national attention in O, the Oprah Magazine’s list of the Top 125 Black-Owned Bookstores in America that Amplify the Best in Literature.

Powerful Influences

Lewis believes books can deliver both solace and power. “Reading can take me away from the stress of COVID-19 and put my mind someplace else,” she explains. “It’s also a path to knowledge. Once you have that, no one can take your knowledge away.”

Inspired by African American Images bookstore, Lewis and Hannah ended up spending eight straight hours there on a trip to Chicago. A dream to start their own bookstore was solidified.

To offer access to millions of books out of the mainstream, Lewis conducts online research, stays active in an African-American literary hub, works with her major book distributor, and engages with customers to get their recommendations on Instagram and Facebook.

Socially Inclined

Interacting with a wide variety of customers comes naturally to Lewis. After gaining some experience in social work, Lewis returned to school in her mid-30s as a mother of three. She obtained a master's degree in social work from PSU while serving as program manager at The Pathfinder Network's Center for Family Success.

Lewis began teaching at PSU’s School of Social Work while still in the master’s program, where she continues to serve as an adjunct professor. For five years, Lewis worked as a mental health therapist at the Avel Gordly Center for Healing at OHSU. Now she consults for The Pathfinder Network’s Parenting Inside Out (PIO) program as a master trainer.

Her approach to social work and the bookstore are the same.

“It’s instrumental to our identity development to have knowledge of Black history and access to books that accurately depict my people,” she says. “By the same token, others cannot support people they’ve been taught to fear. You have to learn in order to change your view about the African-American community, or understand why a person of color feels a certain way about themselves.”

Third Eye Books was forced to close its retail site due to COVID-19 restrictions, and Lewis and Hannah staged pop-up stores over the summer and launched a fundraiser for their next retail outlet.

“I can’t wait until we have a brick-and-mortar location because bookstores bring communities together,” Lewis says. “We have lots of visions for the bookstore: a kid’s corner, a coffee area, and a safe meeting space for the Black community to uplift and empower Portland residents.”

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