This year marks the 30th Anniversary of the $1 billion deal that changed Wall Street…and yes it was spearheaded by a Black man, the late geat Reginald F. Lewis. At a $985 MM tag, a 45-year old Lewis purchased the international division of Beatrice Foods, renaming it TLC Beatrice International and solidifying the deal as the largest offshore leveraged buyout ever by an American company. In 1987, with holdings in 31 countries, TLC Beatrice reported revenue of $1.8 billion making it the first Black-owned company to gross more than a $1 billion in annual sales. Later that same year, Lewis established The Reginald F. Lewis Foundation, which funded grants of approximately $10 million to various non-profit organizations. His first major grant was an unsolicited $1 million to Howard University for scholarships, fellowships and faculty sabbaticals which the federal government matched in 1988. The brilliant corporate lawyer and entrepreneur also tabbed his alma mater, Harvard Law School with a $3 million donation, the largest grant at the time in the law school’s history. In gratitude, the school renamed its International Law Center the Reginald F. Lewis InternationalLaw Center, the first major facility at Harvard named in honor of an African-American. In January 1993 at the age of 50, Reginald’s remarkable career was cut short by his untimely death due to brain cancer. But even after his passing, Lewis’ widow, Loida Nicolas-Lewis ensured that her husband’s philanthropic endeavors would continue. During his illness, he made known his desire to support a museum of African American culture. In 2005, the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History & Culture opened in Lewis’ hometown of Baltimore with support from a $5 million grant from his foundation. The museum highlights the history and accomplishments of African Americans with a special focus on Maryland’s African American community. It is the East Coast’s second largest African American museum, occupying an 82,000 square-foot facility. The museum is also a Smithsonian affiliate. Reginald F. Lewis’ legacy as a Black entrepreneur, attorney, philanthropist, husband and father is stellar to say the least. Also, add HBCU Alum (Virginia St. University) and author or several books including the best seller, “Why Should White Guys Have All The Fun?” Although Lewis typically disliked the media’s emphasis on his ethnicity, he told Black Enterprise in 1988 in reference to African American entrepreneurs, “I think the sky is the limit. When it comes to African Americans, I think our experience in this country puts us in a position to know that you achieve through very, very hard work, and that’s very much in vogue these days…. I’m often disturbed by the notion of the so-called glass ceiling, but you know, glass can be broken.” Even decades later, the words of Reginald F. Lewis still resonate and serve to inspire today’s generation to aim high, work hard, achieve greatness and give back to our community.
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