TARPON SPRINGS – It is easy at first glance to take Elyse Lewis for a classic beauty queen.

But after speaking with the 30-year-old Tarpon Springs High School graduate, it’s clear there is much more to Lewis than the sash she wears identifying her as Ms. Black Florida 2020.

The Orlando native moved to Pinellas County when she was 3, graduated from the Leadership Conservatory of the Arts program at Tarpon High School and attended the University of Florida, where she majored in Sociology and minored in English literature.

After starting her professional career as a UX, or user experience, researcher, developer and advisor in the information technology department at the University of South Florida, Lewis turned her attention to “working on being a better version” of herself by focusing on physical fitness, health and wellness.

“I decided to enter a bodybuilding competition as a bikini competitor and I earned a medal, so I was very pleased how I worked to become a stronger person, physically,” Lewis said in a mid-December interview.

Lewis explained that while searching online for competitions to enter, she came across Ms. Black USA, which she described as “a very different pageant that’s focused heavily on the educational and fitness aspects and about promoting a fit and healthy lifestyle.”

Soon after submitting her application, Lewis learned she had been chosen to represent the Sunshine State in the Miss Black USA competition, to be held later this year, in large part due to the requirement of committing to doing a year of community service dovetailed with her mission of improving health and wellness, particularly among African-Americans.

“My platform, a mobile wellness app I developed titled Elevate on Weebly.com, is about becoming a better version of yourself, by getting out more and doing things like 5Ks or joining a health class or a sports team, for example,” Lewis said. “My goal is to encourage and inspire others to be better people through exercise, healthy eating and general wellness. For African-American women like myself, that’s a major issue, and I’ve chosen to use my title as Ms. Black Florida 2020 to further promote and encourage my community to build towards a better version of oneself and encourage those around us to do the same.”

In addition to working and competing, Lewis is a fitness guide, a teacher in the YMCA Reads after-school program and is a Guardian ad Litem, a court-appointed person who looks after the interestof children in legal matters such as divorce proceedings.

A clarinet player and member of the marching band in high school, Lewis credited the Tarpon Leadership Conservatory program with helping her become the person she is today.

“I attended Tarpon Springs High School for their incredible music and arts education program under the leadership of Director Kevin Ford, and I explain I’m where I am today because of that program which teaches not only how to play instruments but how to succeed in life,” said Lewis, who now plays violin in the USF Health Orchestra, a group of faculty and staff members that performs at local hospitals and community functions.

Lewis admitted she never envisioned herself in this position as she prepares to dive headfirst into her pageant commitment, beginning with an appearance at the 2020 Martin Luther King Day celebration in Tarpon Springs on Jan. 18.

“I do not have a career in pageantry, so this is all new to me,” she said. “But I love it. It’s a great opportunity to challenge myself and others.”

Asked about future challenges, Lewis said she’d “like to learn about motivation and get my master’s in psychology to study that,” with an eye towards ultimately merging her passion of health and wellness with her IT skills and knowledge.

“I think I could marry the two fields nicely and use technology to make real progress through motivation,” she said. “My goal is to see more people in the community getting active, healthy and really focused on wellness. I believe that my voice can inspire that concept of elevating oneself and others. Through words and actions, I’ll lead.”

Elyse Lewis can be reached via email at eclewis@usf.edu.