Minister Thomas “Tom” Lewis, founder of The Fishing School, passed away on February 23, 2021 at 11:05a.m.
Memorial services will be livestreamed on YouTube on Thursday, March 18th at 3:30p.m.
Minister Lewis grew up in rural North Carolina. As one of 15 children, he never dreamed the path his life would take. After making his way north and working for several years, he was drafted and served in the Army. But upon an honorable discharge, he found himself alone in New York City, without prospects or direction, and one day walked into a church he had been passing. The pastor listened and told him to go home and pray, saying, “God loves you. God will help you. God will visit you.” And he did. Lewis said when he prayed and “talked to God,” he found himself suddenly filled with brightness, and at that moment, he became a changed man.
He became a Washington, DC police officer in 1965 and just three years later was one of very few African American officers sent to help quell the violent tensions in DC following the death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In the aftermath of that troubled racial time, and in an effort to restore trust between the police force and the community, Lewis was tapped for the “Officer Friendly” program, where he regularly visited DC schools and spoke with the students. What he saw and heard often broke his heart.
Many of the young children, whose familial relationships were problematic, responded positively to him. At times, some would ask if he would be their daddy. More than once, he had to step out of the classroom and into the hallway where tears would fill his eyes. He said later, “I saw myself in those kids.” Again, Tom Lewis prayed to God and this time he made a promise; that when he retired he would work to make a difference.
While still on the police force and with the help and support of his wife, Lucille, Mr. Lewis found the time to raise three children and earn an undergraduate degree from American University in 1975. Nine years later, still in blue, Lewis became a licensed social worker and an ordained Baptist minister.
Shortly after retiring from the DC Metropolitan Police Department in 1986 and unsure what he would do next, Lewis had a vision. Two ideas soon coalesced and he had his direction. He remembered Jesus’s words to his disciples that “if you follow me, I will make you fishers of men” and an ancient Chinese proverb: “Give a man a fish and you’ll feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you’ve fed him for a lifetime.” Seven months later, Lewis had converted an abandoned crack house into an afterschool center and The Fishing School was born. As he has said many times since, his mission was to help neighborhood children to fish in the rivers of their minds.
To learn more about the legacy of Minister Lewis, we invite you to watch a documentary on his life, Redemption Stone.
The family has asked that, in lieu of flowers, donations can be made to The Fishing School in honor of Thomas and Lucille Lewis, founders of The Fishing School.
Minister Lewis’ memorial service can be viewed on YouTube on Thursday, March 18th at 3:30p.m.