Roxbury, MA — When Robert Lewis, Jr., 59, looks back on his life, one word comes to mind – love. It was his love for baseball and helping urban youth that led him to quit his dream job to found The BASE, a nonprofit which utilizes baseball and softball to provide urban youth the opportunity, knowledge, skills, and confidence to be college ready and attain success in college.
Since 2013, nearly 300 BASE student-athletes have matriculated to college, career training, or the workforce. The program has expanded to Chicago, Pittsburgh, and Indianapolis where Lewis partners with local colleges and universities to provide full-tuition scholarships for The BASE students.
“Urban talent is American talent; if you give folks a chance to succeed, they will,” says Lewis. “Through The BASE, I get a chance to shift the narrative with education and jobs. Why play baseball, when you can own a team? We talk about careers in sports that utilize skills that translate to other industries.”
On Friday, May 10, Lewis will be honored during the Robert F. Kennedy Children’s Action Corps’ Embracing the Legacy event at Boston’s JFK Presidential Library and Museum. The event will celebrate those whose extraordinary actions reflect the social values and hopes of the late Senator by combating societal injustice and inequality.
Lewis’ career began in 1978 when four boys approached him to coach their baseball team in the South End. As gentrification pushed their families further outside the city, Lewis started the Boston Astros, a regional baseball team comprised of kids living in subsidized housing, which was to become the most successful urban youth baseball league in the nation. In the mid-1980s, he opened the first black-owned health club in Boston, Unique Physique. At the time, his late brother, Paul Lewis, played for the New England Patriots and would bring teammates there to train; Paul will also receive this year’s Embracing the Legacy award posthumously.
“People want to say because you grew up black or brown in public housing, you are disadvantaged as opposed to talented or gifted. But, I don’t live by other people’s profiles and neither should other children,” says Lewis. “Love and talent don’t have a price tag.”
Prior to founding The BASE, Lewis held numerous leadership roles in organizations such as Boston Centers for Youth and Families; the Boston Foundation, where he created two standing initiatives: StreetSafe Boston and CHAMPS Boston – two programs to reduce gun violence in the City of Boston and promote positive youth development through sports training, respectively. Most recently, Lewis was appointed to serve as an Executive-in-Residence with The Lewis Institute at Babson College.
“I hope young folks see me and my brother as a start,” says Lewis. “But, I am not a role model. You want to be better than me.”
Founded in June 1969, the Robert F. Kennedy Children’s Action Corps continues to serve and honor the late Senator’s belief that society has a responsibility to all of its members, and that lasting contributions are first made by improving the lives of children and their families. To date, the Massachusetts-based agency, a national leader in developing and implementing successful child welfare, social service, and juvenile justice programs, has impacted tens of thousands of children and families.