*On Friday, January 18, 2013, The Reginald F. Lewis Foundation and Loida Nicholas Lewis sponsored a “Remembering Reginald F. Lewis” cocktail reception at The Harvard Club of New York City to present Reginald F. Lewis Scholarship grants of $5,000 each to five New York City high school seniors who have demonstrated academic achievement, financial need and an interest in business through an essay contest on the life of Reginald F. Lewis, the late CEO and chairman of TLC Beatrice International.
Two other students were awarded $1,000 as honorable mentions. The essay contest was funded through a grant from The Reginald F. Lewis Foundation and is being administered through the New York City Find for Public Schools. The scholarships were presented in commemoration of the 20th death anniversary of Lewis whose remarkable career was cut short when he passed away at the age of 50 on January 19, 1993.
Lewis was an advocate for educating our youth while making available educational opportunities for the less fortunate. Themed “The Reginald F. Lewis Legacy Lives on With Education,” the exquisite event recognized exceptional students for having exhibited academic excellence, involvement with the community, communication skills, and financial need. Ironically, many of the winning students are immigrants and would be the first to graduate from high school/college in their families.
“Mr. Lewis was very serious about his education,” wrote high school senior Joseph Amin in an excerpt of the essay that led him to win a scholarship to pursue his own education.
“The second I was born, circumstances aligned to keep me there (in a small attic where he grew up), but I embrace the irreplaceable gift of educational opportunities, just like Mr. Lewis. Even though I will be the first one to nail up a high school diploma to the wall, like Mr. Lewis, nothing and no one will discourage me.” Those provocative words expressed by Joseph Plasencia, a Dominican student from the Academy of Finance and Enterprise.
The other awardees were Peggy Chan of the High School of Economics and Finance, Taruna Manni of Stuyvesant High School, Jihan Moumou of Academy of American Studies, Shalena Boca of Harry S. Truman and Clarimar Capellan of Theatre Arts Production Company School.
In an ode to Lewis, the students were encouraged to read his critically-acclaimed biography, “Why Should White Guys Have All the Fun” and then answer the question “As you prepare for college and the world of work, what you would take from Mr. Lewis’ life as inspiration and motivation to set high goals for yourself?”
“This event is such a great reminder of what’s really important: wonderful students and providing them with every opportunity to succeed and also the importance of giving back to those still coming up in the world,” said Julia Bator, CEO of The Fund for Public Schools.
“As a pioneer of business, Mr. Lewis never forgot to give back to the community that helped him on his journey to success. He continues to be a great example to today’s students as they strive to achieve their fullest potential,” she added.
A panel discussion composed of former TLC Beatrice board members regaled the audience with favorite Lewis-isms including their fond memories in which they learned and shared life and career lessons from the ultimate business titan, Lewis.
The panel consisted of Jean S. Fugett, CEO of TLC Beatrice International and brother of Reginald Lewis, Charles Clarkson, TLC Beatrice legal counsel, Butch Meily, TLC Beatrice vice president of public relations, and Samuel Peabody, TLC Beatrice board member. The panel was moderated by Mike Muse, CEO of Muse Recordings. WNET 13 president and CEO Neil Shapiro also introduced the RFL Fellow Intern Alumni and shared Lewis’ support for public television.
The occasion was also attended by RFL’s younger daughter, Christina Lewis Halpern, who signed copies of her book about her father, “Lonely At The Top,” also available on Amazon. Other former members of the TLC Beatrice team Mark Thorne, Deidre Wilson-Okeke, Faye Jenkins, Lilly Black, Lucien Stoutt, Norma Wilson and Bimal Amin were also in attendance.
During the reception, attendees were buoyed by a video of RFL’s speech excerpts and career highlights. Other notable moments were provided by RFL’s mother Carolyn Fugett who opened the program and Loida who closed the event with stories of her beloved husband’s vision, meditation and acknowledgements.
“It is important for me and my family to continue to share the legacy of my husband so that young men and women will be encouraged to face adversity, take their studies seriously, set and achieve goals for themselves,” said Loida in her profound parting words.
As CEO of TLC Beatrice International, Lewis presided over a business empire that included 64 companies in 31 countries. Today, his name graces the International Law Building at Harvard Law School, a building at Virginia State University and the Museum of Maryland African American History & Culture.
A special commemorative edition of RFL’s biography, “Why Should White Guys Have All the Fun? How Reginald Lewis Created A Billion-Dollar Business Empire,” is being reissued by Black Classic Press and available at www.blackclassicbooks.com. (Photos by Robert Delacruz)
Audrey J. Bernard is an established chronicler of Black society and Urban happenings based in the New York City area.