Gratitude for Dr. Samella Lewis Continues Today Among Scholarship Recipients and Donors

Dr. Samella Lewis in 2002 Scripps Professor Emerita of Art Samella Lewis (center) in 2002 with Rochelle Branch, cultural affairs manager at City of Pasadena; Lynn Thompson ’72, Scripps College board chair; Denise Nelson Nash ’76, Scripps College vice president and secretary of the board of trustees; and Crystal Jones ’85, Scripps director of development.

By Emily Glory Peters

As we prepare for Scripps’ annual Day of Giving fundraiser—this year’s theme is Giving Gratitude—we’re reflecting on those we at Scripps are grateful for. Among the many who have shaped the College for the better is Samella Lewis: acclaimed artist and curator, esteemed art historian, and iconic professor emerita.

From early in her career, Scripps College Professor Emerita of Art Samella Lewis was at the vanguard of advancing women’s and the Black community’s influence in the world of art and academia. She has garnered a staggering array of firsts: She is the first African American in the United States to earn a doctorate in fine art and art history, the first founder of an African American-owned art publishing house, the first author of a textbook on African American art history, the first tenured African American professor at Scripps College, and much more. Today her work continues to impact the broader Scripps community and beyond through the Samella Lewis Contemporary Art Collection, founded in her honor at Scripps in 2007.

We are not alone in our gratitude. Established in 2002, the Samella Lewis Scholarship annually recognizes an African American Scripps student who demonstrates excellence in scholastic achievement, character, leadership, and responsibility. This year’s recipient, politics major Mackenzie Rutherford ’21, credits forerunners like Dr. Lewis and others at Scripps for helping shape her personal values.

This year’s Samella Lewis Scholarship recipient, Mackenzie Rutherford ’21 (center), credits Dr. Lewis and the Scripps community in part for shaping her personal values.

“As I enter my semester abroad in London, I will maintain my dedication to the values and leadership that Samella Lewis and the great faculty, staff, and others at Scripps have inspired in me,” she says, emphasizing her desire to continue her work with local homeless services center Pomona Hope for Home, the Claremont Colleges Prison Abolition Collective, and Scripps Career Planning & Resources, where she aims to increase student leadership and community engagement when she returns to campus.

“I hope to inspire new Black student leaders to nurture the activist community on campus,” she says.

The scholarship itself emblemizes the collective power of gratitude, as it was established with the help of Dr. Lewis’s students, friends, and admirers, including Scripps Director of Development Crystal Jones ’85. The fund continues to receive support from those who, like Jones and Rutherford, have been touched by Dr. Lewis’s lasting legacy at Scripps.

“Every time I give a gift to Scripps in honor of Dr. Lewis, I am reminded of how fortunate the College is to have her affiliated with this institution,” Jones shares. “She was critical in expanding our scholarship beyond the Euro-centric experience, and her presence at Scripps positively impacted curriculum development and the social dynamic on campus.”

 For Rutherford, her part in furthering Dr. Lewis’s contributions will likely involve law school and a career focused on advocacy for civil rights and inclusivity—goals rooted in gratitude for Dr. Lewis’s impact on society and for supporters of the scholarship bearing her name.

“[Samella Lewis Scholarship donors] honor Samella Lewis’ legacy at Scripps and support Black leadership in the Scripps community,” Rutherford says. “One day, I hope to give back in the way that they do.”

Dr. Samella Lewis is one of the many remarkable individuals who has made Scripps an inspiring place to study and work. On Scripps’ Day of Giving this March 25, 2020, we encourage you to make a gift honoring those at Scripps you’re likewise grateful for. To learn more, please contact Perry Radford, director of The Scripps Fund, at [email protected] or (909) 621-8160.

Interested in learning more? Check out our latest giving and impact news here.