Tonya Lewis Lee's Advocacy Is Exactly What Women Need Right Now
In February, Tonya Lewis Lee, wife of filmmaker Spike Lee, announced that she would endorse former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for president. Meanwhile, her husband endorsed Clinton's opponent, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. It's not uncommon for a husband and wife to support different candidates, but Lewis Lee's reasoning for supporting Clinton goes far beyond just this election. Tonya Lewis Lee is a powerful advocate for women's health, and is a voice of reason that women around the country so desperately need on their side.
"I don't think Hillary Clinton is a perfect candidate by any means, but I don't think there are any perfect candidates out there," Lewis Lee says of her endorsement. "To me, she makes the most sense." She credits her support of Clinton largely to the former first lady's experience, which gives her a sense of how the job works and how to govern effectively.
When it comes to the election as a whole, Lewis Lee struggles to see the bright side. "I find the whole climate to be painful," she says. "I don't like all the hate and violence that's coming out of it." I bet you can't even begin to guess which candidate — or even which party — she's alluding to.
Whether Clinton wins the nomination, the presidency, or neither, Lewis Lee is not one to sit back and wait for things to start changing. Rather, she's quite ready to lead her own charge. Enter Healthy You Now, Lewis Lee's campaign to make health information more accessible to the everyday woman — a need she discovered while traveling the country with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to raise awareness of and lower the infant mortality rate. "The infant mortality rate is the marker of the health of a nation," she says. "Infant mortality really is the death of a child after a live birth before its first birthday — and when you look at infant health, you're really talking about women's health."
As she was having conversations and learning more about the issues that women face while she was traveling the country, Lewis Lee felt inspired to take that conversation she was starting and the information she was learning to a broader audience. As the founder and editor-in-chief of Healthy You Now, Lewis Lee highlights healthy living strategies and tips, including those related to fitness, eating, and relationships. Both on and off the website, she works to create a conversation about women's health and how to mitigate the barriers that women often face to living a healthy, holistic lifestyle.
One such barrier, which you probably wouldn't even expect to be an issue in a country as developed as the U.S., is access to clean drinking water. Yet if you've watched, read, or listened to any news report lately, you probably know that it's a huge, ongoing problem for the residents of Flint, Michigan, a city not far from Detroit. Lewis Lee traveled to Flint long before the city made national headlines. "We should have seen that coming," she says of the city's current water crisis.
It's situations like Flint's, as well as the more subtle ones that don't receive national attention, which really validate the work that Lewis Lee has taken on as she continues to travel around the country for her own campaign. She isn't interested in just putting information out there and then retreating. Rather, she's got her boots on the ground, and she's starting conversations with residents, local politicians, and other relevant parties.
One change that Lewis Lee would like to see is a greater emphasis on studying the unique science of women's bodies. "It still fascinates me that most clinical tests and trials, unless they're specific to women's health, are done on men," she says. "When you do a test for heart disease only on men and try to apply that to women, that doesn't work. We need to makes sure that our scientists are looking at men and women equally when they look at disease."
Healthy You Now is just the latest step in Lewis Lee's long career as an advocate. She's a graduate of the University of Virginia School of Law, an author, and a producer. She's also a mother to a son and a daughter. Although she recognizes that she has been more fortunate than some working mothers, she is wholly familiar with the challenges that working mothers face.
"I believe you can have it all, just not all at one time," Lewis Lee says. "The thing about children is, they do grow up, and they do leave. I didn't want to wake up when my children were leaving the house and wonder, 'What now?'"
Although her focus remained on her children while they were younger, Lewis Lee was ready to enter the next phase of her life when they got older. "I really believe that all women need to have something for themselves," she says. For her, that's exercise — a fitting outlet for a health advocate.
As a success story in so many fields, Lewis Lee offers sound advice for both working mothers and young women: "Try to understand patience," she says. "Put your head down, do the work, be patient, and you will get there." It seems to be the same determined approach she takes with her advocacy efforts.
For Lewis Lee, women's health is about so much more than the physical condition of our bodies. It's even about more than access to a certain pill, though reproductive freedom is undoubtedly important to her. Women's health is about empowering women to feel good — physically, emotionally, and intellectually. Once women have access to the information and resources they need to feel good, they'll be better equipped to fulfill their purposes in the world.
"I really believe that we’re all here to serve a purpose for the greater good," she says, "and when you look at this political climate, we need all hands on deck. We need everybody healthy, feeling good, and doing what they can to make this world a little bit better.
Is it just me, or does everything always seem to come back to the election? Election or not, President Clinton or not, the need for women's health resources will remain. With Healthy You Know, which she will officially launch in June, there's a strong advocate to be had in Tonya Lewis Lee.
Images: Tonya Lewis Lee (2)