Lewa Diarra has always been motivated to succeed. In high school, she ran track, where she was constantly urging teammates to band together and support each other. “During the first few weeks of the season, I noticed that the members of my running group weren’t really talking or cheering each other on,” she says. “It felt like we weren’t really a community. So, I decided to start our own group cheer after we finished a set of our workout…. Before I knew it, we started really supporting each other, and becoming friends. We would even have group bonding activities outside of practice. My running group finally felt like the tight knit team I wanted it to be.”
That community spirit is one of the reasons we were so pleased to name Lewa, a graduate of Madison West High School, as one of our 2022 Council scholarship recipients. This fall, Lewa is a sophomore at the University of Minnesota, majoring in psychology.
From that track team experience, Lewa developed a mantra: “If you want something done, do it yourself.” She’d learned that the field of psychology is lacking diversity, with Black psychologists severely underrepresented and psychologists with vision loss even rarer. “This is something that needs to change,” Lewa says. “I have the power to do that by entering the field and adding my unique perspective.”
“Mental health is something I’m passionate about, and something I find very important,” Lewa explains. “I want to be able to help people maintain good mental health in the future, whether that be through research or counseling.”
In high school, Lewa was heavily involved in extracurricular groups, and she’s continued that involvement into college. She is currently a member of the Black Student Union and the African Student Association. Her participation in group activities helped tremendously when she was diagnosed with vision loss midway through high school. “After I was diagnosed with my visual impairment, I was able to get support from all the connections I’d made,” she says. “My clubmates and teammates were all willing to accommodate me and lend a listening ear when I needed to vent.”
Lewa says these experiences have influenced her ideas about her future significantly. “My vision loss has definitely changed my life goals,” she says. “Due to the support I’ve gotten from my community, I now want to give back and help others in the future. I’ve also gotten to connect with and hear the stories of other people with disabilities. These experiences have made me better able to put myself in other shoes, think of things from other perspectives, and made me a more compassionate person. I think all these insights will help me be a better psychologist.”
The Council scholarship will help Lewa cover her tuition and housing costs for the school year. “I’m very grateful to have received it, because it allows me to continue my higher education, and reach my goals,” she says.