Chuck Lewis will give it to you straight. Grade-point averages and test scores don't measure character.
In a 45-year law enforcement career that began in 1954 with a stint as a military policeman at Fort Gordon, Ga., a stretch that included a tour in Vietnam, two years in private security and 20 more as an officer for the federal Government Printing Office Police, Lewis discovered a lot about himself that his teachers had missed.
His stately appearance--a tall, fleshy, 64-year-old frame topped by tightly cropped silver hair--fades into the periphery when he catches you with his eyes and lets loose one of those grins that sends teachers reaching between their shoulder blades for taped signs. It's quite possible to imagine him engaging in a little tomfoolery during his school days in Southern California.
"Back in '96, a bunch of us got together for a reunion," Lewis said of his former classmates. "All I heard was, 'Oh, Charles kept everybody laughing.' Even though I was failing."
With poor grades and even poorer class attendance, Lewis dropped out of high school at 17, started running with the wrong crowd and had occasional scrapes with the law that culminated in his appearance before a juvenile court judge.
"I went before the judge," Lewis recalled, "and he said to me, 'Charles, I'm gonna give you one last chance. If I ever see you in my court again, I'm gonna put you in jail so long you'll forget your own name.' "
Lewis reevaluated his life that day. He began looking for a way out of trouble and found one--in uniform.
"Some of my relatives had gone into the military police," Lewis recalled. "I would see them coming around with their MP armbands and all of them with a pretty lady on his arm, and I thought that looked all right."
He credits the military for instilling in him a sense of structure that, 45 years later, finds him in his third term as president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 2F in the District. He now uses his hard-learned lessons to provide for college-bound youths in the black community.
When he assumed the post in 1997, Lewis examined the FOP's mission in its national constitution. Specifically, he noted the pledge to "encourage social, charitable, and educational activities among law enforcement officers." Thus began what Lewis has since called his vision for the lodge: to help meet the educational goals of youths in the greater Washington area.
On Nov. 6, the third annual scholarship awards dinner dance was hosted by the lodge. This consummation of a year-round fund-raising effort resulted in seven $650 college scholarships.
A police organization organizing college scholarships for area youths is not unique. Lodge 89, the largest in Prince George's County, gives three scholarships each year to students who are the children of county police officers. Some local lodges contribute to the National Organization for Black Law Enforcement Executives, which awards several scholarships each year to students interested in pursuing a career in law enforcement.
But what makes the Lodge 2F scholarship different is that it is not restricted to students whose parents are police officers or those considering law enforcement careers themselves. Lodge 2F prides itself on having a broader, community-oriented applicant pool.
"We want people who will give something back to their communities," said Lodge 2F secretary Larry Blackwell. "You don't need to be a straight-A student, and we don't bother with how much your parents make. We want kids who will bring it back home."
Some recipients attend four-year universities, while others are enrolled in local community colleges. One student may have a 4.0 GPA; another may barely maintain a C average.
And while their career interests vary from civil engineering to medicine and politics, all have demonstrated willingness to volunteer time to the community. Most, like 20-year-old sophomore Clifford Mack, have pledged to continue the effort after graduation.
"I would love to work with the local community in D.C.," said Mack, a two-time award recipient who is studying to be a pastoral minister at Washington Bible College. Mack did not apply for the scholarship last year but went to the banquet anyway, explaining that he "wanted to give another individual a chance to win this award."
His father, Clifford Mack Sr., said lodge members have taken it upon themselves to see that children who would not have received funds elsewhere are given consideration.
"A lot of police organizations thumb their noses at the community until they need the citizens' support on an issue," said the elder Mack, a 22-year veteran of the Prince George's County police. "The things that these people do are in character. They are real people."
Applications are distributed throughout the Washington area by the lodge's 46 members in the fall. The six-member scholarship committee is composed of four lodge members and two educators who serve as outside consultants. The amount given to each winner has grown from $250 in the scholarships' inaugural year to what the lodge's executive board anticipates will be $1,000 next year.
The money comes from dogged and constantly changing fund-raising. An effort that started with candy sale proceeds and solicitations from local barbershops and car dealers has evolved into large donations from such donors as Riggs Bank, the Friends of (Prince George's) State's Attorney Jack Johnson and the FOP Metropolitan Police Labor Committee, to name just a few.
Additional revenue is raised by raffling off limited edition prints of the Buffalo Soldiers, the decorated post-Civil War African American cavalry regiments so nicknamed by the Indian tribes they engaged on the western frontier.
Jarrett Alexander, 21, a senior at American University who is studying social/domestic policy, said Lodge 2F's support goes well beyond cash. He credits lodge members for helping him network with local political leaders.
"They're taking an active role in trying to support young men and women that have potential in the community, and impressing upon them the need to give back," Alexander said. "It starts a chain reaction, and when I establish myself, I intend to contribute to the scholarship."
Blackwell, the lodge secretary, attributes much of the scholarship's success to Lewis. Blackwell considers the success of the education initiative an outgrowth of Lewis's own community-based philosophy.
"When I joined, they were doing things, but it wasn't as focused as it is now," Blackwell said. "Chuck is a networker, a communicator. One of the sponsors might not want to contribute, and Chuck will make that extra call. He's not afraid to touch base with anybody."
Celeta Hamilton, the lodge's public relations chair, and her daughter Cheleta met Lewis on their way out of church one Sunday morning 3 1/2 years ago. Lewis introduced himself and remarked that Cheleta looked college-bound.
"She told him she'd been taking medical classes," Hamilton recalled, "and Chuck mentioned he knew someone in a medical facility. So he made the call, got her an interview, and the next Monday she was at work."
When Hamilton told Lewis she didn't know how to thank him, he told her he'd think of something. Three and a half years later, she's an associate lodge member sitting on the executive board and contributing her time toward the scholarship program.
"I've worked with people in organizations before," Hamilton said, "but he is just above and beyond anyone else. I only hear similar remarks about what he has done."
Lewis may not run for reelection next year. The thought of his stepping down is disheartening for the board members he has inspired. But Lewis hopes his achievements with Lodge 2F will endure beyond his term as president.
"I say to these kids, 'Look here, 20 years from now I may be standing on a corner with a walking cane and I hope you'll see me and say, "Oh, there's Mr. Lewis. He helped me at one point. Maybe he needs some help across the street." The same way, when you see other kids struggling, you need to help them.' "
CAPTION: Chuck Lewis, president of FOP Lodge 2F, talks about the scholarship program as Larry Blackwell takes minutes at a meeting.