“Why Should All the White Guys Have the Fun?” was a question asked by Reginald Lewis, the richest African-American in the 1980s and one of the first Black billionaires. As a lawyer, entrepreneur, family man, and philanthropist, Lewis “lived his life according to the words he often quoted to audiences around the country: ‘keep going, no matter what.’”
Though his life was cut short at the early age of 50 due to a brain tumor, Lewis’ legacy continues through his philanthropic support in his home state of Maryland. Through the support of the Maryland state legislature and a $5 million contribution from his estate, the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African-American History and Culture was opened, in addition to a landmark move to incorporate African-American curriculum development into Maryland public schools.
So how did he acquire his wealth? Lewis began his career as a corporate lawyer at a prestigious New York law firm, eventually breaking away with colleagues to set up Wall Street’s first African-American law firm. He served as counsel to the New York-based Commission for Racial Justice, and later established TLC Group, L.P., which focused on mergers and acquisitions. Through various business deals, including acquiring, building-out, and then selling companies, Lewis amassed a great deal of wealth, positioning one of his companies on the Fortune 500 list and first on the Black Enterprise List of Top 100 African-American owned businesses.
Lewis had been a standout since his early years and was noted as having the confidence and ambition necessary to succeed. He is infamously known for talking his way into Harvard Law School – earning acceptance even before submitting the formal application or required documents. The school would later name one of its research centers after him: Harvard Law School’s Lewis International Center. Despite his post-graduate success, Lewis made B’s, C’s and D’s throughout his tenure at Harvard Law School – evidence that academic performance alone is not a full assessment of one’s aptitude or potential. “I think my father was born confident,” reports his daughter. We agree! This confidence took him to great heights and left an indelible mark on Black history.