Reginald F. Lewis was an American businessman and the first Black American to build a billion-dollar company. After graduating from Virginia Tech University, he attended a summer program at Harvard Law School where he successfully lobbied to become a student, making him the only person in the institution’s 148-year history to be admitted before applying. Active in the civil rights movement, Lewis valued service and philanthropy. The Lewises gave $1,000,000 to support Howard University, and Mr. Lewis gave $3,000,000 to his alma mater, Harvard University. His remarkable life and career were cut short by his untimely death after a short illness in January 1993. He was 50 years old. He is survived by his wife, Loida Nicolas-Lewis, and his two daughters, Leslie Lewis and Christina Lewis Halpern. The family continues to support educational programs and organizations dedicated to equipping underprivileged students with resources to succeed.
In 2018, Ms. Lewis was connected to then-Chair of the Board of Supervisors for the University of Louisiana System James Carter through Dr. Tanya Wiley-Brown. A partnership was formed Ms. Lewis was invited to share her story during the 2019 Universities of Louisiana For Our Future Conference. Ms. Lewis immediately connected with the System’s nine member institutions and their commitment to equity and inclusion. During her visit, she graciously permitted the System to use her late husband’s name to define this most important work. Thus, the Reginald F. Lewis Educational Opportunity Initiative was born.
Under the direction of Dr. Claire Norris, the UL System introduced the Reginald F. Lewis Scholars to improve the collegiate experience and success of Black males. A signature program of the Reginald F. Lewis Opportunity Initiative, students from throughout the System’s nine member institutions are provided a curated educational experience focused on three areas—academics, social growth and service. Scholars are provided educational programs, mentoring opportunities and co-curricular experiences to foster their personal development and provide the necessary tools for life and career success.