Robert “Junior” Lewis, an East Boston High School and UMass Amherst graduate grew up in the Maverick Public Housing Development surrounded by mentors that shaped his life forever.
Growing up Eastie, Lewis had a big support network in Eastie. People like Debbie White, Marty Pino, Thomas Tassinari and Johnny Forbes all taught Lewis that if he would dream big, good things would happen.
“I didn’t get to where I am in life by myself,” he said. “They say it takes a village to raise a child and that is true. I was just a kid growing up in the projects in Maverick, but I went on to do great things, travel the world, meet people like Nelson Mandela because of the people that believed in me.”
As founder of BASE, a nonprofit that combines athletic training and competition with education and career resources to empower student-athletes to achieve their full potential, Lewis, has emerged as a nationally recognized thought leader, public speaker and passionate advocate for urban youth.
This month, life came full circle for Lewis as Governor Charlie Baker appointed him to the Board of Trustees of his alma mater, UMass.
“I am pleased to appoint Robert Lewis to the UMass Board of Trustees,” said Governor Baker. “Robert Lewis is a dedicated leader and fierce advocate for our urban youth. I’m confident (he) will play an important role in the continued growth of our public university system.”
Lewis was sworn in by Governor Baker at a virtual ceremony that was attended by UMass President Marty Meehan and UMass Board of Trustees Chairman Robert Manning.
“We are thrilled to have the insights of Robert on our Board and are confident that (his) input will help us continue to build on our mission of education, research and service to the benefit of our students and our state,” said UMass President Martin Meehan. “Despite the many demands on Governor Baker at this time, we are extremely grateful to him for the careful attention and consideration he gives to these important appointments.”
As Chairman, Manning said he was very pleased to welcome Lewis to the UMass Board of Trustees and thank Governor Baker for identifying such a standout appointee.
“I look forward to working with these distinguished leaders to take UMass to even greater heights for the benefit of our students, faculty and staff,” said Manning.
In his adult life Lewis became a nationally recognized bridge-builder and catalyst for collaboration between diverse business, civic and public sectors throughout the country. A 2015 Boston Magazine cover story listed Lewis among the city’s 50 Most Powerful Leaders, calling him “a tireless advocate for inner-city kids.”
“All that success can be traced back to my time at the Social Centers, at East Boston Camps, growing up in Eastie,” he said. “Because there were people that saw something in me and made me believe in myself.”
Lewis’s impressive career trajectory has included important roles such as Executive Director of the Boston Centers for Youth and Families, President and Executive Director of the National Conference for Community and Justice (NCCJ), Senior Vice President of City Year’s national operations and Executive Director of City Year Boston, and Vice President for Program at the Boston Foundation where he directed the distribution of $16 million plus in discretionary grants.
He was the chief architect of two important initiatives during his tenure at the Boston Foundation: StreetSafe Boston – the country’s only privately-funded gang program with a mission to dramatically reduce gun violence in the city; and CHAMPS Boston – which promotes positive youth development through sports by training over 5,000 youth sports coaches in Greater Boston.
In 2013, Robert left his high profile position at The Boston Foundation to pursue a lifelong dream to launch The BASE, a program that leverages the power and passion of baseball to help student athletes find pathways to success both on and off the field. Since 2013, the BASE has had 138 student athletes matriculate to college and has provided $25 million in academic scholarships.
The BASE is a model and methodology that changes the paradigm for urban youth by providing student athletes with the opportunity, knowledge, skills and confidence needed to develop a winning game plan for success both on and off the field. The BASE embodies everything Lewis learned as founder of the Boston Astros, a youth baseball team he launched in 1978. Legendary baseball writer Peter Gammons has called The Astros, “Hands-down the best urban baseball program in the country,” and Triple Crown Sports awarded the Astros the 2012 “Team of the Year” award from a field of 40,000.
In 2013 Lewis launched BASE,
Lewis is also a highly sought-after public speaker, facilitator and spokesperson on the topic of urban issues and opportunities, addressing attendees at major national conferences and inspiring students and faculty on college campuses across the country.
He has worked collaboratively with government and civic leaders in Los Angeles, New Orleans, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, and currently consults with a number of foundations and nonprofits.
Lewis also worked with the Minister of Defense in Bermuda to launch StreetStafe Bermuda, and advised Prime Minister David Cameron during the tumultuous riots in the United Kingdom in 2011.
Among his many awards and distinctions are the 2015 Sports Museum’s Lifetime Achievement Award at the Boston Baseball Writer’s Annual Dinner, and an honorary doctor of humane letters degree from Cambridge (MA) College.
The Eastie native has been profiled in four books: Developing Better Athletes, Better People, A Leader’s Guide To Transforming High School and Youth Sports into a Development Zone, authored by Jim Thompson, Do More Than Give, the Six Practices of Donors Who Change the World, by Leslie Crutchfield, John Kania and Mark Kramer, 10 Who Mentor, by Denise Korn, Men Who Dare, authored by the late Katherine Martin.
The 22-member UMass Board of Trustees includes 17 members appointed by the Governor and five members are UMass students elected by the student bodies of each of the Amherst, Boston, Dartmouth, Lowell and Medical School campuses.