Update: The 2020 UCA Laurels & Stripes event has been canceled.
You launched the Derek Lewis Foundation nearly 30 years ago to improve community health in underserved areas. Looking back, what has been the biggest lesson you've learned?
Working in these areas has shown me that the problems are much greater than I could have imagined. It’s very important to stay focused on improving these communities through economic and educational development.
Tell us about the Derek Lewis Endowed Scholarship and why there was a need to focus on African-American students from the Delta.
I grew up in the Delta. Growing up there allowed me to see the need, because essentially I needed the help at one time. I grew up extremely poor, and that has humbled me. I know to appreciate the small things and to never take life for granted. My motto has been, “If I can help at least one person, then my life has not been in vain.”
What do you wish more people knew about these types of scholarships and opportunities?
Ultimately, I wish more people knew that they exist. I’m not talking solely about the students knowing about scholarship opportunities. I’m also talking about alumni knowing about the different opportunities to give. I think many alumni think that they have to be able to give some grand amount in order to make a difference, but every little bit counts. If you want to move a mountain, you start by moving pebbles.
How has your continued connection with UCA impacted the way you run your medical practice?
My connection to UCA has allowed me to become a mentor to young medical professionals. As a role model to students, I want them to be able to say, “If he can do it, coming from where he came from, then so can I.”
Can you talk about the importance of events such as Laurels & Stripes to student success?
Unfortunately for those who are underprivileged, education is not free. This event raises funds to help people work toward better lives. This is reaching out a hand to students to help them up the ladder of success. Each student’s success is a chance for a better society.
Why is it important to you and your family to pour back into young lives, whether through the university or the foundation?
I am a true believer that one gets blessings through giving. It’s very important to pay it forward and uplift our communities. By pouring into our youth, we are leading by example so that they, too, will be compelled to help those that follow behind them.
There are lots of events and fundraisers in the spring. What makes Laurels & Stripes so unique?
Laurels & Stripes is a way to give back and to say thank you to those who have given before. The giving at this event is contagious. It’s very rewarding to know that I am giving back to the school that has helped shape me into the person I am today.