The Fishing School

Our Founder, Our Name

“If you give a man a fish, you will feed him for a day. Teach him how to fish, and he will feed himself for a lifetime.” —Ancient Proverb

“I remember I used to sit on the banks of the water and try to catch fish. Everybody could catch a fish but me. Every now and then I’d catch a small fish that I should have thrown back, but it was precious to me, and I kept it.” —Tom Lewis, Founder

Our name

The name of The Fishing School was inspired by the experiences of our founder, Tom Lewis, and is based on the old adage, “If you give a man a fish, you will feed him for a day. Teach him how to fish, and he will feed himself for a lifetime.”  Our goal is to empower children to achieve success for a lifetime.  Read Tom Lewis’s powerful story below and his inspiration for founding TFS, where students can come and fish in the rivers of their minds.

Our founder

tomlewisOur founder, Mr. Tom Lewis, established The Fishing School in 1990, inspired by a grand vision to bring about real change for the youth of Washington, DC.

Lewis grew up in extreme poverty in rural North Carolina. One of 16 children, he never dreamed the path his life would take. As a child, he would often spend time by the water observing others as they would catch big fish in the lake. Frustrated by his own lack of fishing skills, young Mr. Lewis would sit by the water and simply make bubbles; but whenever he did catch a fish, no matter how small, it was always precious to him.

After making his way north often working as a migrant farm hand, he landed in New York where he struggled in poverty. He was drafted and served in the Army. But upon discharge, he found himself alone in New York City, without prospects or direction, and one day walked into a church he’d been passing. The pastor listened to Lewis 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 he prayed, that he “talked to God” and found himself suddenly filled with brightness, and that he became a changed man. He became a Washington, DC policeman in 1965 and just three years later was one of a very few African American officers sent to help quell the rioting in DC following the death of Dr. Martin Luther King. In the aftermath of that troubled time, and in an effort to restore trust between the force and the community, Lewis was tapped for something called the “Officer Friendly” program, where his “beat” each day was to visit DC schools to speak with students. What he saw and what he heard often broke his heart.

Young children whose mothers were addicts and fathers were absent or incarcerated would take Lewis’s hand and ask if he would be their daddy. More than once, Lewis had to step out of the classroom and into the hallway where tears would fill his eyes. He said later that he “saw myself in those kids.” And 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 force, and with the help and support of his wife, Lewis somehow 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 in 1986 and unsure what he would do next, Lewis was given 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 proverb that if you give a man a fish you will feed him for a day, but if you teach a man to fish he will feed himself for lifetime. Seven months later, Lewis had converted an abandoned crack house into an afterschool center and The Fishing School was born.

His mission was to help neighborhood children fish in the rivers of the mind. Today, The Fishing School is thriving and Mr. Lewis has turned over the reins to Executive Director Leo Givs while he continues to inspire and motivate others. Through Mr. Givs’s leadership, the organization continues to change the lives of more than 7,000 children who have benefited from the care, encouragement, instruction, and support they have received at The Fishing School.

Watch the award-winning documentary The Redemption Stone: The Life and Times of Tom Lewis.