Community Foundation launches A.L. Lewis Black Opportunity & Impact Fund

Some members of the A.L. Lewis Black Opportunity & Impact Fund Founder’s Circle. Photo courtesy of The Community Foundation of Northeast Florida (Photographer: laird).
Some members of the A.L. Lewis Black Opportunity & Impact Fund Founder’s Circle. Photo courtesy of The Community Foundation of Northeast Florida (Photographer: laird).

On Aug. 19, the Community Foundation of Northeast Florida launched the A.L. Lewis Black Opportunity and Impact Fund, a new collective giving fund “to attract and deploy assets in the community to ignite transformational change in Jacksonville’s Black communities.”

Conversations surrounding the fund first began in 2020 with community leaders to explore what could be done to resolve “the issues that plague the Black community,” explained Wanda Willis, Community Foundation vice president of civic leadership.

Those discussions and subsequent research helped identify the fund’s three focus areas: economic development, education and healthcare.

The online brochure about the A.L. Lewis Black Opportunity and Impact Fund explained while these three factors are “key determinants of human wellbeing…Black communities in Jacksonville experience significant disadvantages and challenges in each area. Investing in solutions that drive the elimination of these inequities will support the strengthening of Black communities and the organizations that serve them.”

The fund is named for Jacksonville’s renowned Black philanthropist. In 1901, he helped found the Afro-American Life Insurance Co. Later, in 1935, Lewis co-founded American Beach. According to the A.L. Lewis Museum, American Beach was “an oceanfront resort where African Americans could enjoy ‘recreation and relaxation without humiliation’ during the Jim Crow era.”

The fund was officially launched at the Community Foundation’s Aug. 19 donors’ forum to focus on “the impact and legacy of Black philanthropy,” Willis explained.

Dr. Johnetta Betsch Cole, the great-granddaughter of A.L. Lewis — who allowed the fund to use her great-grandfather’s name and likeness — is a founding member of the fund and an honorary member of the its Founders’ Circle.

“It was quite special to have her as part of this initiative,” Willis said. “She was certainly part of some of the earlier conversations in pulling together this fund and it was just so befitting with her great-grandfather having been one of the first Black philanthropists in the state of Florida to lend his name in support of this fund.”

Cole said when the Community Foundation first approached her about this, her reaction was one of “gratitude and pride.”

“Gratitude that my great-grandfather’s name will be associated with a philanthropic effort that just seems to be so connected to who he was, what he did and what he hoped would be,” Cole recalled. “…[and] pride that the town that I grew up in — and those were not good days from my perspective, those were days of just unceasing racial discrimination and legal segregation — and so how proud I am that the city that I grew up in is now at a point where it acknowledges not only the great work of a man named A.L. Lewis but the need for those of us who have been blessed to remember our responsibility to give back.”

A grant-making process is expected to launch in early 2023, Willis explained. Once the grant applications are available, a committee will help determine how and where the funds will be distributed.

As a collective giving fund, this initiative is comprised of funds given by many donors rather than a single person.

Those interested in helping can visit for more information or to make a gift. The Community Foundation also accepts “legacy gifts” where donors designate a portion of their estate to the fund.

Cole said witnessing this fund come to be has filled her with “amazement and joy” and stands in testament to the lesson her great-grandfather passed on to his family and “anyone who would listen.”

“His lesson was there must be a ratio between what you have and what you give,” she said. “…Everybody can give something. Those of us who have been fortunate must give the most.”

By Michele Leivas
Resident Community News

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