By Jerry Del Priore
Sometimes, good things come out of tragic situations.
Such is the case for Maxine E. Lewis and the Carlton Locksley Bennett Foundation (CLBF), a Canarsie, Brooklyn-based, 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization established to benefit disadvantaged youth subjected to firearm and urban violence.
Over 22 years ago, Maxine E. Lewis received horrific news when she learned her 16-year-old son, Carlton Locksley Bennett, a Canarsie High School soccer star at the time, was robbed, shot and killed in the Bronx because he refused to surrender his gold chain.
From that point on, the tragedy altered her life forever.
“I just wanted to die when my son was murdered,” Lewis said. “That was the beginning of the change of my entire life. The pain was unbearable. I honestly don’t think you can experience that pain unless you have a child who was murdered. I didn’t want to feel anymore.”
Lewis began a path of self-destruction, engaging in atypical drinking for her, just to dull the pain of losing her child. Her doctor prescribed anti-anxiety medication, which, she said, put her in deep fogs at times.
After years of soul searching, Lewis enrolled in college, and earned a B.A. degree in Human Services from Audrey Cohen College in 1997 and a Master’s in Social Work from Hunter College in 2000, in order to better help people with various needs.
She started to feel better, but the 9/11 attacks set her back. In 2004, Lewis said she regrouped, and slowly began to pull herself out of her funk. A few years later, the Canarsie resident got involved in a foundation that benefits children in Jamaica.
But Lewis’ defining moment came in 2008, when she approached the guidance counselor at Canarsie High School to talk about doing something to honor her son’s memory. He suggested starting a memorial fund scholarship in the former promising student-athlete’s name.
Lewis began asking people for donations, and collected $400 for a student in need. It fueled her desire to give back to more underprivileged students, thus giving way to the CLBF in 2009.
The foundation provides money for tuition, books, clothing, school uniforms, school supplies and food vouchers for students who’ve been exposed to all kinds of violence, especially the henious type that took her son’s life.
It has since expanded its scope of services to mentoring, tutoring, leadership training, spiritual guidance and therapeutic services. Lewis hopes to create a multi-purpose resource center in the future.
“In a sense, we adopt these children,” the 58-year-old Lewis explained. “We help prevent them from dropping out of school, provide life building skills, and love them like they are our own children.”
Last year, the foundation — funded mostly by donations — was awarded a $1,100 grant, which was used to purchase 50 backpacks for various underserved students in the community.
Lewis started the charity because, she said, “I wanted to make a difference in many people’s lives that have gone through what I have.”
And she has done exactly that, while staying true to Carlton’s memory.
For more information on the foundation, visit CLBFinc.org.