‘Black-ish’ Star Jenifer Lewis Recounts Painful Sexual Abuse She Experienced As a Child

Jenifer Lewis is beloved as the sassy matriarch on Black-ish. Her sass extends beyond the camera as she’s a natural comedian. But just as many comedians, she has a history of pain. As a child, Lewis was sexually abused, which she says triggered mental health issues and addictions. 

Jenifer Lewis
Jenifer Lewis | Timothy Norris/Getty Images

Jenifer Lewis recalls her pastor molesting her

Lewis always sought stardom. The Black Mother of Hollywood author had a love of performing arts growing up and loved to be the center of attention. As a child, Lewis was a member of her church choir. She often traveled to other churches to perform. During one trip to another church,  her pastor allowed her to ride with him to their performance.

During the ride, Lewis says he stopped the car, leaned toward her, and began kissing her. She resisted as he began to touch her breasts. She says she pushed him off of her as he assaulted her. 

As a result, Lewis says her faith was tested. The experience was so harrowing she did not believe in God for many years. For Lewis, her pastor served as a symbol of what God was, giving her conflicting views on faith and religion. 

Jenifer Lewis
Jenifer Lewis | Gilles Mingasson via Getty Images

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Furthermore, her relationship with her mother became estranged. She told her mother about the abuse but her mother found it difficult to believe her because of the pastor’s influence in their community. Lewis also admits to losing her passion for performing. 

Lewis says of the experience during her TV One Uncensored special: “When he touched me inappropriately, he took my mother, God, and my career. He insulted everything that I was, my entire foundation, for being alive.”

Jenifer Lewis admits to battles with sex addiction and bipolar disorder 

The sexual abuse Lewis experienced, she says impacted her mental health and the way in which she viewed sex. By the 1980s while touring the Broadway circuit, Lewis began drinking heavily and developed a sex addiction.

She details her addictions in her memoir, as reported by People. “Performing on Broadway was a rush,” she writes. “The applause coming over the footlights was like a tsunami in slow motion. The crash after the show, I assure you, is just as intense. Let’s just say that post show I had a sort of habit of sex serving as a nightcap. I was Cleopatra, Pam Grier, Marilyn Monroe, and Jezebel rolled into one. For me, nothing could extend the thrill of a standing ovation like great sex with a gorgeous guy.”

Jenifer Lewis
Jenifer Lewis | Kelsey McNeal/ABC via Getty Images JENIFER LEWIS

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Lewis says things became so bad that she sought help from a therapist, who diagnosed her with bipolar disorder. The diagnosis was a hard pill to swallow as Lewis felt the stigma attached to mental illness was too much for her to bear. She went years without sticking to a medication regimen until she could no longer ignore the symptoms and decided to take control.

“My responses were no longer as extreme,” she says after coming to terms with her diagnosis. “No matter what big issue or catastrophe loomed, I could say, ‘bring it’ and move forward. I was better able to listen and be present and aware of the world around me.”

Lewis’ careers continues to flourish and she strives to be an advocate for those who have experienced similar conditions and pain.