NCCU student changing diets, lives 6/26/2013 (The Weight of the Nation for Kids: Kebreeya's Salad Days)
NCCU student changing diet, lives
Kebreeya Lewis is featured in HBO series
By Carlton Koonce
Michael Jackson sang about change starting with the mirror.
For 19-year-old N.C. Central University rising sophomore Kebreeya Lewis, they are words to live by.
As a high school student at Wayne School of Engineering in Goldsboro, she changed her family’s and school peers’ lives.
Lewis’ efforts are highlighted in “The Weight of the Nation for Kids“ a three-part HBO series, focusing on young people working to improve their health and the health of those around them.
“Kebreeya‘s Salad Days,“ directed by Emmy-winners, Shari Cookson and Nick Doob, follows Lewis as she maneuvers through the politics of local government to bring a salad bar to her school cafeteria.
According to the 2012 N.C. Prevention Report Card, 60 percent of adults are overweight or obese. Of adolescents ages 12 to 19, 22 percent are obese, and 30 percent of children ages 6 to 11 aree obese.
North Carolina is fifth in the state for childhood obesity.
Growing up, Lewis watched family members struggle with obesity, diabetes, and asthma. She worried when her brother was diagnosed with high blood pressure at age 8.
Her mother, Alberta, Louis Hayes, is a single parent who worked as a healthcare technician for years. In 2007 she underwent gastric bypass surgery.
At the time, she stood 5 feet 6 inches tall and weighed about 400 pounds.
Lewis didn’t want to be in the same position when she got older.
“My family pushed me to make a change,“ she said. “I can’t change other people if I’m not doing it.“
To “do it,” Lewis changed her diet as an example, especially to her mom. She quit eating fast food and hasn’t had a soda in three years.
After learning gardening from a neighbor and from Susan Randolph, an earth science teacher at her high school, Lewis tried her hand, growing tomatoes, collards, and cucumbers in her backyard.
The experience allowed her and Students Working for an Agricultural Revolutionary Movement or swarm, a student group she participated in, to volunteer at an elementary school’s garden in Goldsboro.
The group helped kids at Dillard Academy Charter School by discussing fresh food and helping maintain the garden the children started. They also helped sell produce from the garden at the Goldsboro Farmer’s Market.
Back at her former high school, which shared a campus and cafeteria with Goldsboro High School, Lewis heard complaints about the cafeterias, lack of variety, constant pizza and chicken patties, and limited fruits and vegetables.
“If they wouldn’t do anything about it, I decided I would,“ Lewis said.
She conducted surveys and discovered most students wanted to eat better. She gathered names on a petition to urge system officials to make changes to include a lunch salad bar.
Lewis had trouble pushing her plans through. After the school system’s child nutrition, director told her the cafeteria met regulations, she decided to go higher up the local government chain.
After meeting with the Wayne County commissioners, and eventually standing in front of the mayor and city council to advocate her case, Lewis compelled them to write a letter to the school system supporting her cause.
The policy was changed and the salad bar approved.
“We worked hard for that salad bar and now the kids are enjoying it,” Lewis said.
Bath’-She’-Ba Patterson, a high school friend of Lewis, participated in SWARM and is proud of the fight to bring community kids “one step healthier.”
“It was like a revolution movement watching her,“ Patterson said.“ It was inspiring.”
Lewis hasn’t stopped there.
On NCCU’s campus, the criminal justice major maintains a 3.3 GPA while directing her own newly-found student movement, Building Our Own Movement or BOOM.
The organization resembles SWARM and its local, healthy, eating mission, including workshops and food challenges, and maintains a campus garden.
Lewis says being from North Carolina, it can be hard to quit fried foods and other southern staples, but that the way it is cooked makes a difference.
“Good food is still good even if you change how you cook it,“ she said.
Lewis’s mother was recently named most inspirational mom by Raleigh-based radio station 103.9 The Lite, after Lewis entered her name in a contest.
Since the filming of the documentary. Hayes has given up her own daily habit of lightly-salted chips, and the family eats out less. They cook less fried food and have added more vegetables to their diets.
Hayes now weighs less than 200 pounds.
Proud of her daughter, Hayes said the best advice for folks stuck in unhealthy eating habits is to do it a “step at a time“ and not jump in.
“Don’t go cold, turkey,“ she said. “Focus on the change by trying something fried twice a week instead of five times.“
Lewis, who is now a vegetarian, said the meat eaten by her mother or siblings is grilled or baked. She is currently losing weight and feels healthier with more energy and alertness.
She relates to Michael Jackson’s “man in the mirror.“
“I wouldn’t say it’s hard to change the culture,” she said. “But you have to start with yourself.“
The News and Observer
26 Jun 2013, Wed · Page A3
Dictated Transcription: S Cookson