‘D.C. or Nothing’ for Community Activist
Washington Post article by Jeannine Hunter
Published April 10, 2012
Tony Lewis Jr. Builds his Brand While Giving Back
To say Tony Lewis Jr. loves the District of Columbia is an understatement.
His Twitter profile reads: "On a mission to repair all the damage the 80's caused the people of my beloved city."
His father is serving a life sentence for his role in the D.C. drug trade of the 1980s, but Tony Lewis Jr. is trying to help the city recover from those difficult times. A former boss calls Lewis "a phenomenon ... he can reach anybody, any age."
The 31-year-old is a change agent who loves the wisdom woven into Jay-Z's lyrics, Gandhi's writings and the spiritual teachings of Catholic Church leaders, such as the 13th century's Saint Francis of Assisi.
Lewis, who hails from Hanover Place in Northwest, recently got tattoos on his arms featuring the city's flag — three stars and two stripes — and a slogan he promotes online, in conversations and on gear: D.C. or Nothing.
The phrase reflects his movement to bind newcomers and native Washingtonians — folks from different walks of life committed to energizing the city.
Lewis's passion is born from witnessing the impact of drugs on his neighborhood at the hands of men he loved, including his father. Tony Lewis Sr. is serving a life sentence in a federal penitentiary for his role in the drug distribution network led by notorious dealer Rayful Edmond III, the man police at one time called "the city's largest cocaine importer." Lewis Sr. has been in prison for 22 years.
The younger Lewis, meanwhile, has never been arrested. He works as a developer and vocational development specialist at the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, where he works to build relationships with the business community.
"I like how he breaks down all of those barriers, and he's got this energy — really positive energy," said Tasha Ferguson, a Washingtonian who owns EyeCatching Entertainment, a marketing and promotions company. "The whole 'D.C. or Nothing' brand really embodies what D.C. should be and what D.C. is coming together to be."
Lewis appears regularly on local radio programs advocating for youth and speaks at community meetings and events. Recently, he took part in a benefit concert to raise money for slain Florida teenager Trayvon Martin's parents' attorney fees.
When asked about his thoughts on the case, Lewis said: "My goal is to help redefine what it means to be a young black man in this country ... It was the negative perception of what or who black men are that led to the death of Trayvon Martin.
"I hope my actions can chip away at that negative perception in the hopes incidents like that will stop occurring across this great country."
Lewis said the D.C. or Nothing movement was "created to form solidarity among local musicians and enhance the lives of District residents." He volunteers to engage politically conscious people of all backgrounds. He celebrates the efforts of local hip-hop artists and he works to help ex-offenders and to mentor youth — particularly children of prisoners.
"I felt compelled to link with the local music scene because the kids are intrigued by the local hip-hop scene," Lewis said. "This generation really wants to be rappers, entrepreneurs, somehow involved in the industry versus just fans of the music. I also believe that the industry can really come here, to D.C., and thrive, create opportunities for talented people."
Patrons who recognize Lewis interrupt his lunch at Ben's Chili Bowl with compliments and updates about their lives. During a visit at his former job at the District's Department of Employment Services, he's summoned into a training class and gives a short speech to ex-offenders, encouraging them to stick with programs and services the agency offers.
"When you think of Tony Lewis, he's a phenomenon," said Project Empowerment Director Charles Jones, Lewis's former boss. "An old spirit yet he's so young. He can reach anybody, any age. I'm so proud of him."
Interview of Tony Lewis - 10/27/2010 (MP3 format)
Downloading the interview transcript requires Adobe Acrobat.
For additional information on jobs for people under supervision contact:
Vocational Development Specialist
Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency
910 Rhode Island Ave., NE
Washington, DC 20018