After Hurricane Irma, a Category 5 storm that hit several Caribbean Islands leaving many of them without electricity and water, a 30-year veteran news anchor started a fundraiser to help an island that is deeply rooted in her family’s history.
Jennifer Lewis-Hall, an anchor for PHL 17 is leading an effort to raise funds for the people of Anguilla, an island that was affected in September by Hurricane Irma.
The Anguilla population is about 15,000, many of whom survived the effects of Irma, resulting in one death. Residents are still are dealing with a lack of electricity, damaged homes and government buildings.
The island, which is about 35.14 square miles runs, deeply in the news anchor’s heritage. Her family over the years has been active members of the Anguilla community.
“This is where my grandmother was born, my ancestors going all the way back on my maternal side. I can go back to the areas where they worked and played, and worshipped,” Lewis-Hall said. “The island is a very, very special place. It means everything to me to be born here in the United States, but to have an Anguilla legacy. To be able to help them means that I am helping the legacy to where I come from.”
Lewis-Hall talked about how her grandmother, Bianca Oneal Richardson-Brooks used her home, known as the Bianca Castle, to serve as an outlet for Anguillan residents to learn. The house was damaged by the hurricane but is still standing.
She grew up in South Hill, and married Lewis-Hall’s soon to be grandfather who was from the west-end part of the island.
After her grandmother moved to New York, she founded the Anguilla Benevolent Society and raised the news anchor’s mother, then Evelyn Brooks, in the Corona neighborhood of Long Island, N.Y. Harris-Lewis remarked on how her grandmother would sponsor Anguillan people to make their way to the U.S., creating scholarships and shipping off barrels of clothing to different families.
Her mother was also heavily involved, both of them staying active while Harris-Lewis was growing up until the time of their death. Now, the news anchor believes that she is next in line.
“Now I feel like it is my responsibility and honor to carry that torch as a third generation,” Lewis-Hall said. “To stand by and do nothing would be so unlike the legacy that I come from. It would not be natural to me to not reach back and reach out.”
But reporting on an event that Lewis-Hall saw having a large impact on her family was not something she was able to easily deal with, though her knowledge of the island helped her reporting.
She noted that one of her son’s godparents are Anguillan.
“I was wearing multiple hats, being concerned about people I know and love, and bringing news to the public,” Harris-Lewis said. “I felt that I was very equipped to tell that story because of what I knew about that island, because of what I knew of those people, and their love for one another. I felt empowered by being able to talk about an island and people that I love so much.”
The #AnguillaOnMyMind fundraiser was held in Haddonfield, N.J. on Oct. 14 at the La Belle Art Gallery. People are also able to donate to the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency for relief supplies and early recovery and rebuilding efforts.