Personality: Cheryl Lewis Burke

Spotlight on honorary chair of 13th Annual Jazz Inside Out

6/20/2024, 7 a.m.
With education as the family business for three generations, Cheryl Lewis Burke’s career path may have been etched from an …

With education as the family business for three generations, Cheryl Lewis Burke’s career path may have been etched from an early age. Both her parents and all of her aunts were educators, but it was her experience growing up in a segregated Powhatan County that shaped her calling to the field of education.

She was resolute in her mission to empower African American students through education. Her tenure at Clark Springs Elementary, where she successfully catered to the unique needs and learning styles of students from Gilpin Court and Mosby Court, stands as a testament to her dedication and effectiveness.

Later in her career, Burke became the principal of Chimborazo Elementary School. As an under-resourced and underfinanced school, she tapped into personal relationships and community members to form over 300 partnerships with organizations to help.

These partnerships provided assistance for the school, including the creation of an outdoor classroom and the acquisition of musical instruments for the school’s band. The school eventually attained full state accreditation and made yearly progress on standardized tests.

After 38 years in the Richmond Public School System, she retired in 2014, but her work as an educator didn’t end. She is the 7th District representative on the Richmond School Board, holds several other community boards of director roles - the board of trustees of The Richmond Ballet of Virginia, the board of directors of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Richmond, and the History Makers National Advisory Board.

As the honorary chair of the 13th Annual Jazz Inside Out, Burke is lending her esteemed name and commitment to the cause. Her role as an educator and her deep desire to provide students with the keys to advancement through education continue to guide her, even in retirement.

The Virginia Higher Education Fund is committed to providing financial assistance to underserved or economically challenged students as they pursue higher education. The organization offers a comprehensive range of support, from mentoring and emergency aid to dorm kits and books, ensuring that no student is left behind in their educational journey.

The 13th Annual Jazz Inside Out, will take place at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts on Saturday, July 6. The event, featuring The Krewe Band and James Saxsmo Gates & Quinton Jones, is an opportunity to support college-bound students in need and enjoy some local jazz. Tickets are available at vahigheredfund.com.

Meet a retired educator still working to help students and this week’s Personality, Cheryl Lewis Burke:

Volunteer position: Honorary chair, 13th Annual Jazz Inside Out, benefitting the Virginia Higher Education Fund.

Occupation: Richmond School Board Representative, 7th District.

Date and place of birth: June 16 in Powhatan County.

Where I live now: Church Hill.

Education: Bachelor’s in early childhood education and master’s of education in supervision and administration of education.

Family: Husband, two sons and three grandchildren.

Tell us about the Virginia Higher Education Fund (VHEF): We are a nonprofit dedicated to increasing higher education numbers for underserved high school students or students with adverse challenges such as poverty, homelessness or medical conditions. We provide college prep workshops, dorm kits, scholarships, books, emergency aid and mentoring activities to Richmond area students seeking higher education.

When, where and why VHEF was founded: Rose M. Giles founded VHEF in 2010 in Henrico County to provide opportunities for underserved young adults who have experienced poverty and homelessness.

Why this organization is meaningful to me: I believe education is a powerful weapon that can change the world. This organization actively supports each awardee with the tools they need to prosper.

Why I accepted the position as honorary chair: It is an opportunity for me to serve our youths as they aspire to be successful.

No. 1 goal as honorary chair: My goal is to spread the word and get as many people as possible to support and celebrate our youths.

Why this event is a hot ticket: VMFA is the ultimate venue. Guests can mingle in the atrium or on the terrace overlooking cascading waterfalls and beautiful gardens.

How the event will benefit scholarship recipients: All proceeds will provide college prep workshops, financial assistance and dorm kits for scholarship recipients in Richmond and more than 10 counties.

Anticipated number of students to receive help: Approximately 25 students will receive scholarships in 2024. Additionally, 20 first-generation college students will receive dorm kits with comforters, pillows and towels.

VHEF partners with: An array of local and national companies and people, including the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, NBC12, Dominion Medical Associates, Virginia Tourism Corporation, Virginia Lottery, Spider Management, Davis Brothers Construction Company, JB Bryan Financial Group and Dr. Jacqueline Johnson-Curl.

How I start the day: Meditation.

The three words that best describe me: Lively, advocate, positive.

If I had 10 extra minutes in the day, I would: Sleep.

Best late-night snack: Popcorn.

Something I would love to do that most people would never imagine: I would travel to every continent. I’ve traveled to four continents. Three more to go!

My music playlist: Jazz, gospel and R&B.

My inspirational quote: “Meet people where they are, not where you want them to be.”

The best thing my parents ever taught me: My parents reminded me daily to have faith the size of a mustard seed.

The people who influenced me the most: My parents — Edward and Octavia Lewis.

Book that influenced me the most: “The Power of Positive Thinking” by Norman Vincent Peale

Next goal: I want to continue to serve on behalf of every child.