By U.S. Senator Benjamin L. Cardin
February is Black History Month, and it is an opportunity to give special recognition and voice to the many accomplishments of Black Americans throughout our nation’s history. Established in 1926, Black History Month was started at a time when segregation was rampant and Black Americans were denied an opportunity to achieve the American Dream.
Much has changed since then and as we celebrate the 85th year of Black History Month, I want to applaud the achievements of Black entrepreneurs who have started businesses and created jobs that have helped grow our economy. I particularly want to single out the achievements of the late Reginald F. Lewis, a Baltimore native and one of our nation’s most successful businessmen.
Born in 1942 and educated in Baltimore’s public schools, Lewis began his career at age 10 delivering the local Afro-American newspaper. He collected his earnings in a tin can and took to heart his grandmother’s insistence that he save a portion of everything he earned.
A graduate of Harvard Law School, Lewis established his own law firm, the first Black-owned law firm on Wall Street. Focusing on corporate law, he helped numerous minority-owned businesses secure badly needed capital. In 1987, he purchased the international division of Beatrice Foods, which became TLC Beatrice International. As Chairman and CEO of Beatrice, Lewis headed one of the most successful and profitable international firms in the world, and by 1992 he was listed among the 400 richest Americans.
Reginald Lewis was an entrepreneurial virtuoso, brilliant businessman and dedicated philanthropist. He died at age 50 from cancer, leaving behind a life of success and achievement that has become a beacon of pride, hope and inspiration for all Americans. Well known for his philanthropy, the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of African American History in Baltimore is a lasting legacy.
In celebrating the achievements of individuals like Reginald Lewis, I also want to applaud the success of minority-owned businesses within our state. Today, there are 69,410 Black-owned businesses in Maryland, and we are ranked sixth in the nation in terms of the overall number of Black-owned firms. I am proud of their successes and will do all I can to help these businesses grow and prosper.
Today, as we struggle to recover from the most serious economic downturn since the
Great Depression, we can be particularly proud of the achievements of Reginald Lewis. He understood that minority-owned businesses often face hurdles that are difficult to overcome, and that one of the biggest challenges is access to capital.
As a member of the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee, I have participated in hearings about limited access to capital and other barriers to success for minority-owned business. I am committed to supporting solutions that will help eliminate these barriers and to provide the capital that is needed so that small and minority-owned businesses can create more jobs and help spur our economic recovery.
Black History Month is a time to celebrate the successes and to reflect upon the challenges that still face the black community. Reginald Lewis was a special, gifted Baltimorean, and as one of the most successful Black entrepreneurs, he understood that the American Dream was a dream all Americans could achieve.