Living Legends Series

Living Legend Carolyn B. Lewis Made an Impact Helping Others

Carolyn Lewis (Photo: Steven Halperson)

Alexandria, VA – Since her early days in Alexandria, Carolyn B. Lewis put her energy into improving the lives of young people and helping them move forward with a promising future. Although she has been involved with many programs, Project Discovery Alexandria was her baby, and she’s seen it grow to become an organization with 20 chapters in seven states guiding students pursuing higher education.

Project Discovery Alexandria (PDA) prepares and motivates low-income and first-generation college-eligible students to access opportunities in higher education. Through workshops and trips to college campuses, PDA provides vital information about how to set and achieve educational goals. The Project Discovery Advisory Board supports this program, whose mission is to raise funds, promote community involvement, and foster positive public relations.

“A former superintendent of schools was one of our Project Discovery kids,” Lewis said, reflecting on her many accomplishments.

Iburia Hall-Haynes has known Lewis for over 30 years and saw the result of her efforts, including Project Discovery. “Through her leadership as co-founder of Project Discovery of Alexandria, as a teacher, mentor, principal, church member, family member, and friend, she has made a substantial difference,” said Haynes in a summary of her experiences with Lewis.

Project Discovery wasn’t the only thing on Lewis’s plate in Alexandria. She was involved with Brother’s Keepers, a community organization, Feed the Five Thousand, and Tree of Lights. At the same time, she volunteered at the polls, AARP, and those attending adult high school. Along the way, she’s seen generations of families grow through the city programs.

One Alexandria resident who is now a grandmother explained her impact. “Ms. Lewis is the person who contributed to my success and is the one responsible for my graduation from high school,” the woman told Haynes. She stated that Lewis would come to her home, make sure that she came to school, and encourage her every step of the way.

Brother’s Keepers is a community initiative run by the historic Alfred Street Baptist Church, with which Lewis has been involved since 1969. In July, Lewis was involved in a church initiative giving out school supplies to families in the DC area. It’s the initiative’s 22nd year helping families in underserved communities. The church choir is one of her passions. “I love singing, only in the choir though, no solos,” she said.

In 2002, Lewis was recognized by Alexandria’s Commission for Women in the Annual Salute to Women Awards in the Education/Training category.

Carolyn Lewis was born and raised in Whitakers, NC. She was one of 12 children – eight girls and four boys. “It was wonderful growing up with so many siblings,” said Lewis, the youngest girl and third youngest in her family. After graduating from Swift Creek High School, she attended North Carolina Central University, majoring in physical education with a minor in education and biology.

“I didn’t want a career that kept me inside,” she said. “I wanted to be able to go outside. I didn’t want to teach, but back when I was coming along, they really only told you that you could be a teacher or a nurse.”

Following her college graduation, Lewis learned that the Alexandria school district was looking for a PE teacher at what was then T.C. Williams High School. She applied but was sent to Parker-Gray instead, where she began her career in 1969. When that school closed its doors, Lewis ended up at T.C. Williams. She met her former husband, a music teacher, at T.C. Williams. They have one son, Elwood “Woody” T. Lewis Jr., and one granddaughter, Sophia.

“But you can’t tell kids in Alexandria that I only have one son,” she laughed, “because according to them, I have hundreds of kids.”

One of those hundreds, Joseph Williams, is especially close to Lewis. “Joe really considers himself my son, and he is really close to me,” said Lewis, who is also close to Williams’ wife Meryl, daughter Lillian and son Warren.

It’s her family, along with the network of friends that she has cultivated over more than 50 years in Alexandria, that keeps her optimistic as she is being treated for Stage IV breast cancer. “No matter what I am going through now, I know I have had a good life,” Lewis said. “I am truly blessed.”

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