CIHero: Asa Lewis Jr. creates the organization Make Your Mark

PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) – Peoria man Asa Lewis, Jr said “I want to create a program that reinforces the right thing to do” after losing his brother to gun violence, and that’s exactly what he did.

Lewis is the founder and president of the Make Your Marq 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. It is an organization that he began to remember from his brother, Marques.

After losing his brother in 2017 to gun violence, Lewis said he wanted to find a way to acknowledge the positivity his brother radiated.

“There was so much sadness, ‘we miss you’, all that other stuff, and it’s not who my brother was. He was a lively, bubbly, laughing person all the time. And that’s to that time we launched the program in 2020,” he said.

This program now helps hundreds of children in the Peoria Public School District.

“Initially, we are looking for around 20/25 children as part of our leadership council,” Lewis said. “Last year I think we had 197 kids who chose to be part of it through meetings and stuff like that, so we can’t grow fast enough for the kids.”

The organization focuses on students in grades 2 through high school and recognizes good behavior in young people.

This behavior includes arriving to class on time, getting good grades, and helping other students. Lewis said some might think these actions were expected, but he said they need to be rewarded, so they continue to perform well.

“If you need more people who need to hear positive things about themselves, we have this for you. If you need the skill building part of how to handle very stressful and very emotional ones, we have this stuff for you. The next goal is to try and roll it out to more of our schools because it’s something we all need,” Lewis said.

Students who achieve good behavior listen to Lewis’ presentations on how to handle emotional or stressful situations, among other topics. Students are also invited to field trips and volunteer opportunities.

To emphasize the character of the students, they are given “Make Your Marq” t-shirts, but this is not cheap for Lewis.

“A majority of [the donation money] goes to the shirts, the equipment, it means so much to the children. If they look cool and carry their stuff, they do pretty much anything you ask them to,” Lewis said with a laugh.

Lewis pays the expenses to the organization out of his own pocket, but this can also be covered by donations. Make Your Marq, however, struggles to get the attention it needs to receive regular donations.

Instead, Lewis pays $20,000 to $25,000 each year to run the organization.

“Our children needed me, but I need them. Watching them grow keeps me coming back every day,” Lewis said. “Seeing them improve, seeing them handle things better, makes day-to-day work easier.”

For those wishing to donate to Make Your Marq, click here.