The Reverend Lewis Stewart Jr., a dedicated local civil rights leader, passed away at the age of 77 on Friday, October 27 at his Greece, NY residence. The United Christian Leadership Ministry (UCLM), an organization he co-founded, shared this information on Saturday. Stewart had served as the president of UCLM until 2022.
Stewart, born in Newburgh, New York to the late Bishop Lewis W. Stewart, Sr. and the late Carrie Stultz-Williams Stewart, worked tirelessly in the Rochester community to eliminate social, economic, and racial inequities. Under his leadership, UCLM played a pivotal role in influencing policy changes, including the introduction of body-worn cameras by the Rochester Police and subsequently the Monroe County Sheriff's Office.
In 2017, Stewart and then-Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren signed a Memorandum of Understanding to establish the Community Justice Advisory Board, responsible for monitoring the use of body-worn cameras and proposing ongoing policy enhancements.
Services are being held Saturday, November 4, 2023, at Baber AME Church, 550 Meigs Street, Rochester, NY: Wake 9AM – 12PM, Funeral at 12PM
Stewart was called to the ministry at the age of 17. He was ordained as an Elder in the Churches of God In Christ in June of 1972 in New York City. He is also an ordained Baptist Minister. He served as Associate Minister at Second Baptist Church in Mumford, New York under the leadership of Dr. Charles Thurman, and at Christian Friendship Missionary Baptist Church under the leadership of Dr. John S. Walker. He is presently the Pastor of Christian Community Church.
Community and Social Activities
While a student at Orange County Community College, he strongly advocated for a Black Studies Department which was created a year later.
At the State University College at Brockport, he wrote the Constitution for the Black Student Liberation Front. He organized protests against racism and the war in Vietnam. He also campaigned for the position of Student Government President and was elected to that position.
Stewart was a board member of United Church Ministries, Inc. and served as the Coordinator and Organizer of the Black Family Life Conferences 1 and 2 in 1976 and 1977. He was a coordinator for the Rochester Black Political Convention in 1978 and the Coordinator and Organizer for the Black-Hispanic Political Conference in Newburgh, New York.
He was a delegate to the National Black Political Convention in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1974, and a delegate to the New York State Black Political Assembly in 1975.
He was a contributing essayist for About Time Magazine which was owned by publishers Jim and Carolyn Blount. He was host of RISE television program in the early 90’s.
He was a founder and President of the Congress of African American Unity and served as the Coordinator of the United Church Ministry’s United People’s Coalition which advocated for a revamped Civilian Review Board. In 1998, he campaigned for the New York State Senate.
From 1988 – 1992, Rev. Stewart was the Pastor and Protestant Chaplain for the New York State Department of Corrections at Groveland Correctional Facility, and from 2000 – 2009, he was the Pastor and Protestant Chaplain at Five Points Correctional Facility, a maximum security prison in Romulus, New York. As Chaplain, he fought for prison reform and advocated on behalf of inmates.
His ministry in prison was powerful, dramatic and inspiring. Rev. Stewart had the largest attended worship service in Five Points and, according to reports, he stopped a riot when some of the correction officers wanted to arrest him but the men who attended his services almost resorted to violence in defending their Pastor—He was himself above all else as a Pastor.
In August 2013, he co-founded and co-organized with a group of pastors the United Christian Leadership Ministry of Western, New York, Inc. (UCLM) and was elected the organization’s president. He advocated on behalf of Brenda Hardaway when no one else spoke up on her behalf, Rickey Bryant and Chris Pate and others.
Prior to the rebellion in Ferguson, Rev. Stewart advocated for the use of Body Worn Cameras (BWC) to aid in improving Community-Police Relations. He also served as Co-chair of the Rochester Coalition for Police Reform and the Police Accountability Board Organizing Committee.
In these capacities, he and other team members researched, developed and drafted policies for the Body Worn Camera program. Presently, some of the policies became part of the Rochester Police Department Policy Manual. UCLM and the Rochester Coalition for Police Reform are still engaged in advocating for stronger policies. In November of 2017, Mayor Lovely Warren and Rev. Stewart signed a Memorandum of Understanding creating the Community Justice Advisory Board. The purpose to monitor the utilization of BWCs and make recommendations.
UCLM and members of the Coalition also researched models for an independent Police Accountability Board (PAB). Rev. Stewart participated in the City Council’s Public Safety Committee to revise the PAB draft proposal.
Stewart took a public stand against gun violence. He has lost several family members due to gun violence. In 2014, he organized a “Black Church Summit on Youth, Guns and Violence.” He has engaged with Lentory Johnson and Min. Kenneth Muhammad of Muhammad’s Mosque to raise community awareness on gun violence and the trauma impacting families. Along with Mrs. Johnson, Min. Muhammad and Mrs. Hayes, they organized UCLM’s Light the Way Gun Violence Prevention Awareness Initiative, a curriculum to be used in after school programs at the City’s recreation centers. UCLM is still looking for volunteers. Moreover, he also initiated projects such as Community Healers, Adopt-A-Block Initiative and the Partnership in Excellence: Achieving Careers and Education in partnership with BOCES where adults over the age of 21 study to obtain their GED’s.
Stewart has advocated for OACES which was defunded $500,000 in the Rochester City School District. He organized a press conference and a series of meetings with stakeholders including the Superintendent of RCSD. The funding was restored. He felt that OACES is an invaluable and needful asset to the community. He served as Chairman of the OACES Institutional Advisory Board.
In the summer of 2016, Rev. Stewart called for a Police-Community Summit to address issues of harassment and excessive force by law enforcement against people of color. To date, there has been five successful summits. Former Chief Mark Henderson of the Brighton Police Department and at that time Chair of the Monroe County Law Enforcement Council came together with former Chiefs Richard Tantalo of Irondequoit and Pat Phelan of Greece, former Chief Ciminelli of RPD and others to dialogue and to build trust and legitimacy. Rev. Stewart, community activists and law enforcement executives still meet to explore strategies to improve Community Police relations.
Stewart opposed the call for “defunding” and “abolishment” of police agencies especially in light of the high incidents of gun violence. If any group needs police patrols and protection it is poor communities of color. Stewart supported the reallocation of resources for improved training of police to establish a non-racist police force rooted in transformation of culture, policies, procedures and training.
He believes that police need to be Servant-Protectors and neither “Warriors” nor “Occupiers.” Rev. Stewart supports former Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Executive Order 203 regarding reimagining policing. To this end, the United Christian Leadership Ministry has proposed several changes:
· A Civilian Review Panel where citizens can participate and have real power in the hiring of candidates for the police force.
· A Community Safety Corp which will serve as a supplement to law enforcement in which citizens will be trained and participate in providing public safety to their community.
· Racial Justice and Anti-Racism Training and Education for all law enforcement agencies.
· Encourage that all police officers engage in mental health follow-up and review annually.
· Advocate and push for all police agencies to have body worn camera programs including the Greece Police Department and the New York State Police.
· Rev. Stewart and UCLM signed an Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Sheriff Todd Baxter of the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office to establish quarterly meetings to review the Sheriff’s Body Worn Camera Program.
Stewart battled cancer from 2009 thru 2012. He had a 20% chance of living after 5 years. The Lord preserved his life. He is a cancer survivor.
Rev. Stewart does not designate himself as a “community activist,” but rather a “Liberationist.” He believes in the prophetic calling for social justice and that the Gospel delivers the whole person and society. He is committed to the systemic transformation of the community and nation, and the eradication of social, economic, and racial inequities. In effect, he is a disciple of Jesus the Liberator.
As a young man, Stewart wrestled, boxed, and was a former student of both Taekwondo and Jeet Kune Do which he studied for several years. He is an avid reader in history, biography, literature, philosophy, theology, archaeology, astronomy, and space exploration, science fiction and fantasy.
His greatest enjoyment is studying and reflecting on the sacred word of God as manifested in the Bible. He regards the scriptures as his map through life.
He was an enthusiastic board and computer gamer, engages in writing fiction and non-fiction. He also studied dreams and practiced meditation.
Stewart served as a board member of the Greater Rochester Community of Churches, Co-Chair of the Rochester Coalition for Police Reform, served as a member of the Mayor’s Judicial Screening Committee. He was President of UCLM until his passing.
Stewart has a strong support in his wife, family, and friends for which he is very grateful.