William Lewis Coffield was born June 22, 1918, in Hollywood, Fla., the sixth of nine children born to Benjamin Coffield Sr. and Isabell Sharpe. The Coffield children were young when the family moved from Florida to Wilmington, Del., where he attended school and grew to young adulthood.
As a young man, Coffield was attracted to the opportunities offered by the U. S. Army to travel and see the world. World War II was underway when, at age 21, he joined the Army and the ranks of the historic Buffalo Soldiers—a regiment consisting of African-Americans only. He became a military police officer in this all-Black unit. While he spoke about the racial prejudice he sometimes experienced both outside the Army and within it, he valued and spoke warmly about the comradery, the life lessons and skills learned. On May 28, 2014, at WestPoint, Coffield was among the few African-American men honored by President Obama at the dedication of the Buffalo Soldiers National Monument. He received a Presidential Medal of Honor for having served in World War II as a Buffalo Soldier.
Coffield joined Convent Avenue Baptist Church in 1958, under Convent’s founding pastor, the Rev. John W. Saunders. He became a dedicated member who early on demonstrated leadership abilities and willingness to work. Ushering was his chosen ministry. The Rev. Mannie L. Wilson entrusted him to lead all Usher Ministry Boards, appointing him chief usher of the Joint Usher Boards, which includes the adult, senior, missionary, children and youth Usher Boards, as well as the Male Usher Board that he founded. He served in this capacity until January 2016, when he was voted Chief Usher Emeritus at the annual church meeting.
Coffield did not limit his work at Convent to ushering. He was also one of the founders of the Appreciation Ministry, which serves to beautify and decorate the church in accordance with the season or special occasion. He was a strong supporter and regular attendee of the annual church outing, helping to organize activities, food and transportation. As a father of the church, he served as one of the honorary co-chairpersons of Convent’s 75th anniversary Steering Committee.
Coffield’s strong leadership capabilities combined with his heart for the children and youth of the community drew him to work with the Revs. Wilson and Grant as they founded the Boys & Girls Club of Harlem in 1980. Coffield became a member of the founding Board of Directors of the then A. Philip Randolph Boys Club. He faithfully supported the club and watched it evolve from a Boys Club, to the M.L. Wilson Boys & Girls Club housed in the Education Building of Convent. In 2016, he was ecstatic to see the Boys & Girls of Harlem Club in its new home at 525 W. 145th St.
Coffield remained an active member of the club’s Board of Directors for more than 35 years, and was elected emeritus in 2018. He devoted time and treasure to the club’s mission of providing opportunities and access for our youth to become responsible citizens. He organized fundraisers and helped to support the club throughout the decades-long struggle to purchase and develop the club’s property on 145th Street. The former P.S. 186 became the Boys & Girls Club of Harlem’s new clubhouse and an affordable housing complex for the Harlem community. The annual Lewis Coffield Award was created by the Board of Directors to memorialize Coffield’s role in the life of the club. He attended his last board meeting in June 2017 at age 98.