Our Story

Tom Lewis founded The Fishing School to create real change for youth in Washington, DC.

Our Story

Tom Lewis founded The Fishing School to create real change for youth in Washington, DC.

Our History


Tom Lewis was born in Chadbourn, North Carolina as one of 15 children. His family faced extreme poverty, and Mr. Lewis dropped out of school. He earned money as a migrant farm hand as he worked his way north, eventually landing in New York. In New York, he was drafted into the Army.


After being discharged from the Army, Mr. Lewis became a Washington, DC police officer. He was one of very few African-American officers sent to quell the rioting in DC following the death of Dr. Martin Luther King.

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During his time with the Metropolitan Police Department, Mr. Lewis joined the Officer Friendly program. The goal of the program was to restore trust between the police force and the community by sending officers into DC schools to build relationships with students. Mr. Lewis’ work put him in daily contact with students experiencing troubling challenges in society. He was touched by these children and promised that, once he retired, he would focus his life’s work on helping DC’s youth. He would provide them with the role models, skills, and mentorship needed for lifelong success.


While still on the force and raising three small children, Mr. Lewis earned an undergraduate degree from American University, with the help and support of his wife, Lucille. Nine years later, Mr. Lewis also became a licensed social worker and an ordained Baptist minister. His experience and education brought unique perspectives to his work at MPD.


Mr. Lewis retired from the police department in 1986. Keeping his promise from years before, Mr. Lewis began working toward fulfilling his new mission to serve DC’s youth. Mrs. Lewis donated $1,000 she had saved from her seamstress business and Mr. Lewis raised an additional $1,100 to fulfill his vision. The Lewises bought a former crack house on Wylie Street in Northeast DC, one of the District’s most crime-ridden neighborhoods. Mr. Lewis renovated the building to serve as the eventual headquarters for his work.


Tom Lewis founded The Fishing School with the goal of bringing positive change for the youth of Washington, DC. He started by serving five young children. He believed then, as we do today, that education is the key to breaking the cycle of poverty.

Mrs. Lewis was by her husband’s side throughout his journey and The Fishing School would not have been possible without her love, care, and contribution. She often volunteered during the program, teaching students sewing during Do-It-Yourself Club.


Thanks to the support of the community and our constituents, we were chosen to appear on ABC’s Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. Local officials, builders, corporates supporters, and scores of volunteers built our new headquarters in just seven days. Special guest Tyler Perry opened our new 6,700 square-foot, state-of-the-art facility in August 2009.


We celebrated our 30th anniversary in 2020. The Fishing School has served over 7,600 children and their families since our founding.

Watch the award-winning documentary:

What we have been able to do for our community over the last 20 years has been hard work, but it has also been heart work. This new building is truly a blessing and we will use it to continue to be of service to this city’s youth and their parents.

—Tom Lewis, founder of The Fishing School, in 2010.

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