Jim Lewis Blog – Obama Inauguration

Jan. 22, 2009
Indiana Fever Assistant Coach Jim Lewis has been near the forefront of racial diversity virtually all of his life. Growing up as a prominent young black athlete in the Washington, D.C. suburbs, Lewis was the first African-American to accept a basketball scholarship at West Virginia University. His 1964-65 class was later honored as the first class to break the color barrier at the university. After his coaching career began, he became the first African-American as an assistant men’s coach, both at Duke and Tulane Universities.

An advocate for equal rights and an example of cultural consistency and cohesiveness, Lewis has continued his enthusiasm for change and equality. His son, Christopher, recently worked on the presidential campaign for Barack Obama, and will continue on the staff of the newly-elected President. Lewis was not only present for Inaugural activities in our nation’s capital last week, he was deeply entrenched in them.

Lewis spent time this week to share his experiences for readers on FeverBasketball.com.

Hi Fever fans! I am sure that you all saw the Inauguration this week (Jan. 20), but here is an inside scouting report from a veteran Life Coach of 40 years. Enjoy!

Mark the moment, remember the No. 46, and continue to teach and grow in His grace.

Sports, culture and American society have always intrigued and, in fact, dominated my life of 62 years. I am a sports historian who has studied, directly learned from pioneers, and personally experienced many chapters of our nation’s slow walk through the integration of blacks into mainstream society – both in general, and in basketball. The past three days in Washington, D.C. have provided the ultimate synergy of sports, its affect on American culture and the country’s most brilliant example of societal change.

Let me teach you for a moment, please. I am an original Baby Boomer, born in 1946, just four miles from the nation’s capital in the segregated Southern city of Alexandria, Va. The NBA began playing in 1946 and four years later, integrated its league with a man named Earl Lloyd, who also grew up in Alexandria, Va. Earl and I attended the same all-black high school (Parker Gray), and often traveled those four miles to compete against other high schools from Washington, D.C. Earl and many other black basketball players and coaches provided a glimpse to American society, of how integrated group dynamics were effectively possible during the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s.

Forty-six years ago, in 1963, the March on Washington, D.C., led by Dr. Martin Luther King, illustrated on a much greater stage the cultural nexus of America’s people joined together for many common causes. Many Alexandrians traveled, in fact walked, those four miles, to help serve notice that all fair-minded Americans were seeking – demanding – similar examples of equality from their country; examples which were in part being shown through basketball. I helped to integrate the basketball courts and classrooms in our hometown and state during that same year of 1963.

And so it is, that 46 years after his birth in 1961, Barack Obama came to Alexandria’s T.C. Williams High School (made famous from the “Remember The Titans” movie) and spoke to a rally of his supporters on a basketball court named for Earl Lloyd and whose girl’s basketball coach was, at the time, me. The full-circle beauty of this rally was that my son, Christopher, organized the event. And yes, Chris, like his new boss, President Obama, was a 6-8 left-handed baller at Harvard. Chris has worked on the Obama campaign since Day One and was on the stage of the Capital during the swearing-in process last week. Instead of walking, this time we (along with 1.5 million others) caught the metro train to D.C.

Our family, along with millions of citizens of the world, witnessed a remarkable occasion in our country’s history over the past few days. We also would like to share with you a truly American hero story of a man named Earl Stafford. Earl is a Deacon at our church in Alexandria, and Alfred Street Baptist Church has always led with grace and dignity, the fight to end injustices around the world.

On Sunday, January 18, we were joined in service by two guests – Angela Taylor, the new General Manager/VP of the Washington Mystics, and Renee Brown, Senior VP of the WNBA. They both came on our invitation to hear the inspiring words of our new 36-year old pastor, Rev. Dr. Howard-John Wesley. Rev. Wesley is like his friend from the south side of Chicago (President Obama, aka The Big “O,” no offense to Oscar Robertson!), a truly gifted orator. Renee and Angela were both touched by the creative brilliance by our senior youth who displayed “Broadway type” skills in their MLK Presentation of “Change Has Come to America.” This then leads me back to Earl Stafford and his enormous act of philanthropy. Earl is a highly successful local businessman who purchased a $1 million inaugural package which included hotel rooms, food, transportation, three gala balls and much, much more – for whom? For the indigent, underprivileged children, the terminally ill, the chronically unemployed, the homeless, those from battered women’s shelters, and wounded veterans. His People’s Inaugural Celebration in partnership with the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, gave hundreds and hundreds of citizens the type of experience usually reserved for the very privileged.

On Monday, the 19th of January, we all joined in an Interfaith Prayer Breakfast which highlighted renowned gospel singer Shirley Caesar. She along with our Pastor, Rev. Wesley, as the keynote speaker, “turned it out.” That was then followed by a Dr. MLK Jr., Commemorative Luncheon with none other than Martin L. King III, as our keynote speaker. Each of the Monday events was attended by 1,000 people. The special aforementioned invitees were also treated to spa, hair stylists, manicures, pedicures and, oh yes, over 500 gowns and formal attire which had been donated by church members. The luxurious displays made the J.W. Marriott on 14th & Pennsylvania Ave., look like 5th Avenue in New York City.

Earl then saved the best for last, on Tuesday, Jan. 20. Many were afforded tickets to the Presidential swearing-in and almost everyone later enjoyed a climate-controlled, optimum viewing position on the hotel’s rooftop lounge for the fantastic parade which followed. Tuesday night culminated our three-day whirlwind with three balls: 1) for youth up to 13 years of age; 2) for youth 13-18 years of age; and 3) the Presidential Inaugural Ball with too many dignitaries and celebrities to mention. The Stafford Foundation is a faith-based, non-profit organization founded on promoting the principles of Jesus Christ. It is focused on bringing people of goodwill together, to help the underserved, the marginalized and the distressed, and assisting them with helping themselves – and eventually to help others. They and we believe that by investing the hopes and dreams, the abilities and the potential of the less privileged, our communities and our nation will benefit.

Let’s all continue to do our part in helping the Roundballer in the Oval Office bring about positive change to the world. Can we? Yes, we can! Yes, we did! Now, let your mind soar and your heart follow to imagine how great the world will be in 2055 … just 46 short years away.

We Got Next! … We’ve Got Game! … Expect Great!