He was just 11 years old, living in Houston, a Boy Scout, and ultimately, an Eagle Scout, who was dropped off by his grandfather in what he thought was the wilderness at Slumber Falls Camp in New Braunfels, Texas. Huston Tillotson University Alunmi Michael Kristopher Lewis ('07) immediately felt the camp was not a place for him. And to make matters worse, there was no cellphone to call his grandfather to come back and get him, so he called home, which was about four hours away. And just as a loving grandfather would do after returning home, he turned right around to go and pick up his grandson. But it was the next thing to happen that changed Lewis' camp life forever.
Lewis had a fall while waiting for his grandfather to arrive. A counselor rushed to his rescue and uttered these simple but powerful words to Lewis, "This is a safe place. Everything will be okay." It was this moment that defined Lewis' career today as an entrepreneur, the owner of You Mei Camp Education (YMCE) in China.
From Houston to China, that was the big jump. But the story is too deep to jump from the beginning of Lewis' journey to his current point at which he runs a $15 million-dollar-and-growing company. This company started as a partnership between just two people, Lewis and Marco Reyes, in a small office that doubled as a sleeping quarters.
Lewis' business success sounds like that of an experienced international businessman, and it is. So just how did Lewis gain his international business knowledge? It was from Huston-Tillotson University, where he majored in international business and minored in philosophy. And just like a dream come true, he opened an international business.
Huston-Tillotson University is one of the black colleges supported by the Black College Fund which provides financial support to maintain solid, challenging academic programs; strong faculties; and well-equipped facilities.
The partnership was YMCE, essentially an agency that sent Chinese children to the U.S. (mainly, in the Northeast) to experience traditional American camp life. At that time, the agency was only servicing 25 children, a very low number and the reason for breaking even in expenses and revenue. Today, there are 5,000 children and growing. Even the employee count has grown from the two business partners to 38 full-time employees.
A W.E.B. Du Bois scholar, a ranking officer in the college chapter of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc., junior class president, and director of communications for the business club, HT helped shape Lewis' future success.
"I learned a lot about myself (at HT)," Lewis recalled. "Values, family, and friendships were key elements. We used to say, 'We all we got.' That was my saying because the teachers looked out for us. We were like a big family. We looked at each other, motivated each other. Of course, we had the 'crazy cousin' friend, but he was still family," Lewis shared as a humorous moment.
Lewis gives a huge amount of credit to Dr. Steven Edmond, HT's dean of the School of Business and Technology. Lewis worked for Dr. Edmond for two years while a student. Ultimately, Dr. Edmond connected Lewis with another student in 2007 for a trip to China. Lewis graduated from HT in 2007 with a 3.75 GPA and never looked back to the States. He found a new home, and it was China.
Lewis' business has a mission that brings Lewis full circle to his early camp experience. The mission is to create a safe place for children so that camp can change their lives.
Huston-Tillotson University website, Austin, TX
One of seven apportioned giving opportunities of The United Methodist Church, the Black College Fund provides financial support to maintain solid, challenging academic programs; strong faculties; and well-equipped facilities at 11 United Methodist-related historically black colleges and universities. Please encourage your leaders and congregations to support the Black College Fund apportionment at 100 percent.