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Noted philanthropist gives to center for HBCU interns

‘I want to build diversity by preparing Black students for next generation-leadership,’ Jacqueline Lewis said

Byron Dobson Tallahassee Democrat USA TODAY NETWORK

A noted Sarasota philanthropist has provided affordable housing for college students interning in Washington, D.C., for the past 25 years.

Now, she’s pledging $1 million to a new venture that will house students from historically black colleges and universities.

Jacqueline Lewis and her late husband, Robert D.G. Lewis, founded Washington Intern Student Housing, known as WISH, in the nation’s capital. It provides temporary housing to college students. Over 25,000 student interns have stayed in their properties since 1996.

Lewis last week announced plans for the National Center for Historically Black Colleges and Universities, which will offer a living-learning complex for students attending HBCUs.

Lewis, a retired teacher, has established a foundation to run the center with a $1 million pledge to pay semester housing costs for 175 student interns. The center opens this fall.

She said she was inspired by last year’s gifts to HBCUs by billionaire MacKenzie Scott, ex-wife of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. Scott announced in December she is giving away $4.2 billion in gifts to 384 organizations throughout the U.S., Puerto Rico and Washington D.C. — Second Harvest of the Big Bend also made the list.

“I want to build diversity by preparing Black students for next generationleadership in all professions and I have seen how to do it,” Lewis said in an email.

“This is not a flash in the pan,” she added. “This is how to achieve it through opportunity in higher education. I haven’t met MacKenzie Scott, but she was the inspiration for my gift.”

Florida A&M University is the only public HBCU in Florida.

The others are Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach, Florida Memorial University in Miami Gardens and Edward Waters College in Jacksonville, the state’s first HBCU.

The center will share space in a fivestory building on Connecticut Avenue N.W., originally built by Boston University for students interning in D.C., the company said in a release.

The Connecticut Avenue building, north of the White House, was purchased by Lewis and her husband in 2010. WISH’s expansive real estate holdings also include several formerly vacant row houses and apartments near Capitol Hill.

Students will not only live in the center but will participate in programs related to HBCUs, and in turn share that experience with students representing universities across the world.

Lewis has created the HBCU National Center Foundation, which will provide financial support to schools sending interns to Washington, D.C. to cover their housing costs.

The center also will be available to students as well as faculty involved in advancing their experiential education and research programs.

Marie Dennis, a graduate of Clark-Atlanta University, is CEO of WISH. She also will serve as director of the HBCU Center.

Contact senior writer Byron Dobson at or on Twitter @byrondobson.

“I haven’t met MacKenzie Scott, but she was the inspiration for my gift.” Jacqueline Lewis



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