How one KFSR 90.7 radio host overcame numerous odds

Doc Lewis, radio host on KFSR, shares his story of adversity after being born with cerebral palsy and polio. (Ram Reyes/The Collegian)

Oftentimes people are more preoccupied with an end result than they are with the journey they took to get to that result. For some, their journey could be meaningless and for others, their journey could mean everything.

For KFSR 90.7 radio host Doc Lewis, his journey nearly ended before it got started, but through perseverance and a fighting spirit he has managed to turn a lifelong battle into one of the most storied radio careers in the Central Valley.

Lewis has been the host of The Gospel Show, one of the most successful gospel shows in California, taking over as host in 2010. After being approached by KSFR general manager Don Priest, he was given  the opportunity to audition and jumped at the chance.

“I was doing radio for KVIS, and he [Priest] said, ‘I might have something for you,’” Lewis said. “He said, ‘How about you do The Gospel Show? Can you do it?’ and I said, ‘Sure, I would love to.’”

Lewis has garnered numerous awards in his nearly 37-year career, including “Black Essence Worldwide Award” in Houston and runner-up for “Radio Host of the Year” at The Spin Awards in Atlanta and the Newsome Awards in Baltimore.

Lewis always believed that he would become successful and a star, but as his self confidence grew, the doubt from others grew as well.

“I used to tell people and they would laugh, ‘You know one day I might be famous.’ And they would laugh. ‘One day you are going to ask me for my autograph.’ And they would laugh,” Lewis said. “Those people who aren’t laughing at me anymore, they are asking me for my autograph now.”

To reach the heights that Lewis has achieved, the process did not come easy, and he was already playing from behind since the day he was born.

Born in 1967, Lewis’ journey started earlier than anyone expected, as his mother Sarajoy Lewis gave birth to him four months prematurely. After weighing in at an alarming eight ounces, the doctors pronounced Lewis braindead, but this would be one many battles Lewis would overcome.

Due to his compromised health from his premature birth, Lewis was diagnosed with polio and cerebral palsy. The latter diagnosis caused him to endure years of surgeries and speech therapy treatment throughout much of his childhood.

According to the cerebral palsy information website, it is a neurological disorder that affects the body movement and muscle coordination, forcing those diagnosed with it to lose or have impairment of motor functions. It is caused by brain injury or abnormal development of the brain that occurs while a child’s brain is still developing.

Growing up in the small, rural town of Gonzales, Louisiana, during the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, Lewis faced the challenge of fitting in during a tumultuous time for African-Americans, while also having a disability.

Lewis developed a distinctive limp and speech pattern after years of physical and speech therapy and  corrective surgeries in order to help develop his motor functions. These differences drew the ire of many of his peers and caused them to bully Lewis.

“At eight years old, I didn’t know why I was born like this. Asking, why me,” Lewis said. “To have everybody walking normal and I’m thinking I’m normal. Not knowing that I was special needs, which weighs a lot on you.”

But throughout his life, Lewis managed the pain with a sense of humor and a hearty smile. Both of which he describes as infectious and credits inheriting from his mother.

“Every time I would see her she always had a smile,” Lewis said. “I got my smile from her and how to treat people.”

A young Lewis was able to turn his attention toward two loves in his life, one that would help build his confidence and another that would give him the career he has today in basketball and radio.

Lewis held a natural interest in basketball and radio, but his eventual love for both was cultivated by a coach and broadcaster from his hometown, Lyle Boudreaux.

When Lewis was eight years old with metal braces, Boudreaux asked him if he would help be an equipment manager for him. Ultimately, that was a decision that Lewis’ grandmother had the final say on.

“He [Boudreaux] said…I want you to be my equipment manager and I told him, ‘You have to go ask my grandmother,’” Lewis said. “He saw talent in me that I think no one else saw. My family knew I had it, but they didn’t know how to address the talent.”

After getting the okay from his grandmother, Lewis became a mentee of Boudreaux, spending time with him, learning from him and even obtaining his famed nickname from him.

“He [Boudreaux] said, ‘I got something for you.’ He opened his trunk and it was a red starters jacket and a pair of Dr. J’s, around the time Julius Erving came out with his shoe,” said Lewis. “And he said, ‘I am going to name you Doc. That is where the name originated from.”

During this time, Boudreaux was growing Lewis’s passion for radio. On several occasions, Lewis accompanied Boudreaux in the press box as he was broadcasting games. This experience would change him for the rest of his life.

“I would go with him and learn in the press box. He would teach me how to do radio right there,” Lewis said. “I knew right then, that is what I wanted to do. I wanted to be a radio personality.”

In the summer of 1985, Lewis’ journey took him to California. He and his sister moved to Bakersfield to once again be reunited with his mother, who had been living there for a while.

“I made a phone call to my stepfather and said, ‘Hey, if you drive out to Louisiana to get me, I’ll be ready when you come,’” Lewis said. “I didn’t believe he was coming, but he came…That is where I ended up meeting a lot of professional ball players.”

During this time, the basketball scene and talent pool was abundant. For Lewis — a trash talking, skilled point guard — the transition to California was a culture shock for him and garnered interest from those around him.

After his move to Bakersfield, Lewis began finding solace in street basketball, while also becoming a member of the Bakersfield High School basketball team. At Bakersfield, he was under the tutelage of legendary head coach Mark Hutson.

Hutson, a member of the Bob Elias Sports Hall of Fame after 38 years of coaching, left a lasting impression on Lewis by helping him gain confidence both on and off the court.

During this time, Lewis was teammates on the Bakersfield Drillers with Hutson’s son, Justin, in the late ‘80s. There was a mutual respect for each other’s game, and the younger Huston felt that while others may have seen him as different, he himself did not.

“He [Doc] was a really nice guy, good basketball player, and I always enjoyed Doc,” said Hutson on his first impression of Lewis. “I didn’t look at Doc as having a disability, to tell you the truth. He was just one of the dudes.”

There was a mutual respect for each other’s game and little did they know that they would eventually cross paths nearly two decades later.

“It was good to see him when I got to Fresno,” Hutson said. “He was one of the first people there, and it was good to see him again.”

In 2018, Hutson became the head coach of the Fresno State men’s basketball team. Given his coaching lineage passed down from his father, Lewis wasn’t surprised that Hutson would become a coach of one of the premier collegiate programs in California.

“I still call Huston a floor general,” Lewis said. “He knew basketball like the back of his hand…He was already being groomed for what he was doing now.”

Basketball was key in his life and as a player for Lewis who played in the Special Olympics. This experience formed a bond and relationship with the organization. In 2017, he appeared at the Winter Games in Graz and Schladming, Austria, as a presenter and speaker.

“Just being there with like-minded folks like me, I love it,” Lewis said.

Since Lewis had worked with the Special Olympics and was a speaker in the handicap community, he knew he could do more. Once his mother implanted an idea in his head, he began to take action.

So in May of 2019, Lewis started the Doc Lewis Foundation. The organization’s main goal is to operate as a public charity in support of handicapped individuals and families with handicapped members.

The foundation is currently in the infancy stage as Lewis and his board of trustees are trying to find a set location and funding, but he has lofty goals for his organization and believes in it.

“In five years, I am hoping to have the foundation branch out all across California. The Doc Lewis foundation is Los Angeles, in the Bay Area and even in Gonzales, Louisiana,” Lewis said. “We are looking to branch out, because when we go to these places and talk to these kids, I never know who is in the audience that is just like me.”

During the pandemic, Lewis has been able to do as much work for his foundation and community outreach as he would like.

Given his cerebral palsy, Lewis falls in the category of immunocompromised and is at great risk to the effects of COVID-19.

But once it is safe for Lewis to get back to his normal routine, he has his eyes set on once again helping the community by putting his basketball knowledge to good use.

“I told my wife the other day, ‘I wonder if I could go to an elementary school once this pandemic is over and be an elementary basketball coach one day,’ Lewis said. “That may be what the future holds…That is one of the goals I would like to do once I retire.”

Lewis credits his family, friends and faith as the driving catalyst for his success, but also for helping him stay humble during all of his success. He is especially grateful for the help of his wife of 31 years, Meachie, who reminds Lewis to stay grounded.

“My wife says, ‘your gift is going to make you room for you and don’t let this go to your head. Stay humble, rooted and grounded,’” Lewis said. “That is how I am able to maintain this humbleness.”

Lewis hopes to continue to be an example for the handicap community moving forward and believes that he needs to continue his life’s work, because he never knows who could be the next person he reaches.

“Special needs people, we don’t see a difference. But other folks do,” Lewis said. “My handicap did hinder a few things…But it’s never stopped the drive that I have…So, I can’t give up.”

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