Lionel Joseph Jenkins, a life- long leader in the civil rights movement, was born in Washington, D.C. on June 20, 1934, the son of Clarzell V. Jenkins and Mabel (Brown) Jenkins. During his childhood, segregation was the law of the land, even in the nations capital, so his determined parents sent him to gain an education in a non-segregated boarding school in Woonsocket, Rhode Island. That school was Mount St. Charles, where its largely Franco- American clerical faculty and its student body not only welcomed the Afro-American boarding student, they lionized him for his basketball prowess. During his years at Mount St. Charles he acquired a reputation as Woonsocket’s greatest basketball player ever ” a reputation he maintains until this day. In 2012, it earned him membership in the first class of inductees into the Mount St. Charles Athletic Hall of Fame and designation as a “Rhode Island Basketball Legend” by the Rhode Island Interscholastic League. After Lionel’s graduation from the Mount in 1954, he was awarded a scholarship to Providence College, then in the (1934-2015) process of rebuilding its basketball program. At that time PC played its home games in the Mount Pleasant High School gym. Lionel was a pioneer. Black athletes were a rarity at PC, and he broke the color line. Lenny Wilkins soon followed, and then many others, but Lionel led the way. Lionel never forgot the opportunity PC gave him. Throughout the remainder of his life, he remained a loyal and active alumnus. For his efforts he received PC’s National Alumni Association Exemplary Citizenship Award in 1993 and the Mai Brown Award in 2004. After graduation from PC in 1958 and a period of service in the U.S. Army, Lionel returned to Rhode Island to begin a professional career with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) where he rose to the position of regional director. As an ardent civil rights advocate he often volunteered to travel south as a compliance officer to prevent instances of housing discrimination. Lionel was actively involved in community affairs in Northern Rhode Island lending his particular expertise to his hometown of Smithfield and its Housing Board. He has been described as “a person who loved nature, animals, and people from every station in life and a good Samaritan.” Lionel, known to his large family and his many friends as a big man with a big heart, died on Valentines Day 2015. He is survived by four children ” Linda, Kym, Maria, and Richard.
Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame
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