Passions Project: Jim Lew


Photographed at his home in Rogers Park, Chicago

Chicagoan Jim Lew is a consummate storyteller, bursting with interesting stories from throughout his life. Indeed, everything Lew does seems to turn into his latest passion.

His tales start with spending his childhood in his parents’ Chinese restaurant on Route 66 in Amarillo,

Texas. He’s full of fascinating stories about working as a teacher trainer on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. And then there’s the period of time he made drums for Mickey Hart from the Grateful Dead and hung out backstage with the band.

When Lew headed to Grinnell College in the late 1960s, he had dreams of becoming a medical researcher, but as Lew explains, that was one career he didn’t do. Instead, he became “the long-haired radical student body president.”

After he met Saul Alinsky, a Chicago- based community activist, Lew turned to community organizing. He also was a substitute teacher at Cooley Vocational High School. Through his experiences, he learned that people need to create conversations and connections with others — a skill he currently uses as a volunteer cultural diversity trainer with the Chicago Police Department.

Indeed, Lew is a man who wears many hats — literally. When he worked on the reservation, people would give him hats, which he displays proudly in his home.

“I’m a raving extrovert,” Lew says. “My job is to see the best in every human being. I believe that people are great, and it is my goal to get them to see themselves through my eyes.”

Photos and Words by Heidi Wagner

Read More about the Passions Project