LEWIS & SPOMA
On a particular morning, when the atmosphere smelled like rain, a large, pale yellow house near UNCG took the sun’s place.
Pushing through the home’s dark purple doorframe, you’ll find the same colored walls in a room to the left. On the right, olive green walls surround the front room, which was lit up by natural light beaming through window blinds. There’s a piano against the wall, and a guitar standing upright in the corner. The wind rustled the trees outside. Maybe it will rain.
That was outside, though. Inside, a new aura was put into work.
But not by the houseâ€”by the residents inside the house. Lewis Pitts and Spoma Jovanovic.
The couple sat close to each other on a velvety couch across from a wooden coffee table. Spoma is wearing aqua-blue shorts with a floral top. Lewis has on gray pants and a blue, short-sleeve buttonupâ€”pen in pocket, glasses perched on his nose. Spoma cradles a coffee cup in her lap. Lewis has their rescue dog, John Henry, draped across his thigh.
There’s conversation. There’s smiles.
There’s chemistry. It’s as if the two had known each other their entire life.
But that wasn’t the case. In fact, they’ve only been married since 2007. But for Lewis and Spoma, that was their true beginning of love, passion, and activism.
After being born in Detroit, Spoma grew up in Los Angeles with only her brother and her immigrant parents from Serbia. Her upbringing was surrounded with a growing interest in the world, but also with Serbian traditions.
American culture was hard. But, they did get a Christmas tree, despite her parents’ best efforts to hold on to their culture. “You are an American first, a Serbian second,” her parents would always say. In their eyes, America held a promise for democracy, something that Spoma would cherish later on.
Eventually graduating from UCLA with a bachelor’s degree in political science, Spoma found herself in Colorado, gaining both her master’s degree and Ph.D from the University of Denver. She then made her way to Greensboro in 2001. Lewis, on the other hand, was already on the East Coast.
“I was born, raised, and miseducated in South Carolina,” Lewis says, nestled in the corner of the couch. The dog huffed. Lewis scratched his head.
He’s from the small town of Betune, South Carolina.
Small, like 600-people, small. Twentythree students in his high school class, small.
“Well, it’s 600 if you include indoor pets,” Lewis joked.
This is the couple’s point of contrast: city-girl Spomaâ€”senior class president of 1,000 students. Small-town-boy Lewis, living amongst a church-driven, homogenized town of white folk. He wasn’t familiar with other cultures. So, Spoma’s cultured past was just what the doctor ordered.
After leaving his town, Lewis went to a small collegeâ€”Wofford Collegeâ€”to study English.
“We’re not opposite in passion and shared-beliefs, though,” Lewis says, patting Spoma on the leg. She sips at her coffee cup. John Henry licks his paws.
Both of their passions brought them to Greensboro. Unexpectedly, Spoma became a professor at UNCG after a slew of different dreams and jobs. At first, she wanted to be on television as a news caster.
“Because you’re pretty,” Lewis whispered and touched her cheek. Spoma tilted her head back with a laugh and explained that things don’t always turn out as you plan them.
Despite this dream, she ended up working for the sheriff’s department in San Diego as a public information officer, establishing her own Public Relations firm in San Francisco, working as a non-profit executive director, and a community relations manager, both in Colorado.
But there was still something missing. As she found it, teaching was the missing elementâ€”something she never dreamed she would enjoy.
“It ended up being quite an unexpected surprise,” says Spoma.
And that’s how she found Greensboroâ€” teaching as a full professor in Communications Studies at UNCG. Her interest fell in how communication shapes communities, and lucky for her, Greensboro was the perfect fit.
“There’s a concentrated amount of [amazing people] here,” Spoma says. “Maybe it’s in the soil. I really do think there’s something special about Greensboro that enables people to say, ‘we want to participate, we want to have a say.'” Spoma soon realized that she would find what she always wanted in Greensboro. But she didn’t expect to find love.
But what she found first, was the Greensboro Massacre.
That’s right. November 3, 1979. Communist Workers’ Party vs. the Ku Klux Klan. Four members of the CWP, and one other individual, were killed—10 others wounded.
Not only did this spur the writing of her book, “Democracy, Dialogue, and Community Action: Truth and Reconciliation in Greensboro,” published in 2012, but it gave her a reason to meet Lewis.
You see, Lewis was a lawyer. In college, the philosopher, Bertrand Russell, was at the top of his reading list. This drove him to the idea of being a lawyer. After he interned at the South Carolina Attorney General’s office, Lewis was sure this was what he would pour his life into.
“I had been steeped in these fundamental values that are the patriotic ones: fairness, liberty, freedom, and equal protection,” Lewis says.
From these values came a strong work ethic.
“[Law] is a calling,” Lewis says. “You profess a calling to serve certain noble principles, which is the antithesis of a business, which is about serving the bottom line and profiting.”
Lewis graduated from the University of South Carolina School of Law in 1973. For three years, he served as an assistant public defenderâ€””a free lawyer for poor people,” as he put it. He then went into a private practice for two years. Afterwards, he participated in activist work against nuclear power, which got him arrested a couple times. Likewise, he became a child rights activist after becoming a father in 1985.
Lewis became involved in the Greensboro Massacre after he was part of a civil trial against the Greensboro authorities whose informants aided in inciting the violence, concluding in a wrongful death judgment. Five years after the fact, his group was victorious.
His values, realized. But now, Lewis is retired. The most important part, though, is that the two met on common ground through this past event: the Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Committee.
After moving to Durham, Lewis had to speak at a Friday-Saturday training session for the Truth and Reconciliation process, since he was one of the lawyers involved during the massacre. His topic? What was wrong with Greensboro government at the time.
Spoma was there, too, gaining insight for her book, and learning about the legal backdrop of the massacre. One of their first interactions happened when Spoma suggested that Lewis should speak during one of her classes: communications ethics. But what she saw in Lewis was more than a lawyer, he was a man with a heart for helping those who were less fortunate, discriminated against, or who were unjustly served.
Lewis, who is standing now, looks down at Spoma and smiles.
“She gave me her business card, and the next morning I started chasing her,” Lewis says. “And I caught her pretty quickly.”
Both were separated from previous marriages. But their first date wasn’t a typical one.
That next Monday, Spoma received a voicemail.
“Hey, it was great to meet you,” Spoma says, remembering the voicemail, “I don’t know if you’re married or not, but if you’re not, do you want to go grab a cup of coffee or have lunch?” Her response? “Well, no,” Spoma said, “But maybe you could take me to the site where the Greensboro Massacre occurred.”
A month later, Lewis returned to Greensboro to follow up with Spoma. Except he kind of failed his mission.
“Well, I don’t remember where it is,” Lewis said.
“But that’s why we met, so you could take me to the site,” Spoma said.
After asking for directions and finally finding the location, the two enjoyed dinner together.
Fireworks. “And we’ve been together ever since,” Spoma says.
Lewis then hurriedly moved from his Durham location to rent a house at the end of Spoma’s block, since her kids were still living at home.
Then he moved in. Then they got married. “This was a brilliant, beautiful woman of substance that I have adored,” Lewis says. “So kind, so thoughtful, and feisty and hard-headed.”
The two share a moment, blushing. “With all that’s wrong in the world, all that happens, he’s supremely hopeful and positive,” Spoma says. “He’s somebody who is a defender and fighter for justice, this was very attractive from day one.”
“We try to be inseparable,” Lewis says. And inseparable they are. Every morning, the couple wakes up early, about six or seven o’clock, in order to visit the Bryan Family YMCA on West Market street.
When they arrive home, they always have breakfast. They walk John Henry. They feed their chickensâ€”Fannie Lou, Emmylou, Dixie Chick, and Baba Lou. They’re named after southern, “mouthy women,” as Spoma puts it. Then, Spoma either walks or rides her bike to the UNCG campus to work. Right now, she’s working on participatory budgeting and evaluating the first participatory budgeting process in the south, which was in Greensboro. She calls herself a scholar activist.
In the meantime, Lewis attends meetings throughout the day. Although he is retired, Lewis keeps busy by writing, talking to people about democracy, and speaking about police accountability. He was recently chosen as the Greensboro chapter of the NAACP Citizen of the Year. He’s also a personal trainer.
A man of many talents. Then, the couple returns home to debrief about the good and bad parts of the day.
“We rant together,” Lewis says. They have dinner. Mostly the couple cooks up vegetables, fresh from their garden. They use a lot of eggs because of their chickens. They’ll grill out occasionally, but the couple loves their vegetables.
“She’s a wonderful cook,” Lewis says. And to conclude the night, they might watch Netflix, Lewis might play his guitar, but most importantly, they read.
From their relationship, the two have delved into their activism. Lewis in race, privilege, and child advocacy; Spoma in education, service learning, and civic engagement. After almost a decade together, the two feel there is even more work to be done in their community.
“I believe in a fair and just society and world,” says Lewis, “What keeps me up at night is how far away we are from that, and how we’re getting further away. We’re increasing inequality.”
Spoma shares this anxiety. “I believe in a world where we all contribute to our own well-being, and we recognize and see the needs of other people as important,” she says. “There’s always something more to be done. No matter how much good we do or try to do, there’s always more, and so, what is it?” But those matters seem to dissolve away when the couple is present in their home.
Their house stays neutralâ€”keeps them sane. Their dining room with a dark, wooden table where they share wine after a long day; their kitchen with a tall, stainless-steel refrigerator that keeps their dinners fresh; their backyard patio, complete with a garden and chicken coop; it keeps them complacent.
Now they’re outside. The air is muggy and sticky. Above, trees sway as the wind picks up. Spoma walks over to the edge of the chicken fence.
“Hey girls,” Spoma calls the chickens over to her.
They come running, squawks and all.
John Henry stands at the doorway, peering out.
Then, it starts to rain. !