Community Voices

David Lawrence Jr.: a champion of children and our community

David Lawrence Jr., chair of The Children’s Movement of Florida and a driving force behind The Children’s Trust.
David Lawrence Jr., chair of The Children’s Movement of Florida and a driving force behind The Children’s Trust. Photo provided to the Miami Herald

Some people volunteer to help when they see a need in the community. Others recognize gaps in community services and seek resources to fill them. Still others have the vision to see a void and take action — they lead in developing a plan, lobbying for funds and creating structure for an entity that was needed but did not exist.

David Lawrence Jr. is the latter. He identified a need and followed through, becoming the founder of the Children’s Movement of Florida and continues as the driving force behind The Children’s Trust. Advocating for children has become his life’s work.

Dave will present his memoir, “A Dedicated Life: Journalism, Justice and a Chance for Every Child,” at noon Sunday, Nov. 18, at the 2018 Miami Book Fair, Miami Dade College, Room 2106 (Building 2, First Floor), 300 NE Second Ave., downtown Miami.

The book chronicles his life, shares life lessons and highlights the journey that led him to the understanding that sometimes families need outside sources to assist them in getting children ready for school and life.

Recently, in a Florida Trend business magazine interview by Associate Editor Art Levy, Dave recalled being appointed in 1996 by then-Florida Gov. Lawton Chiles to a commission to look at education in the next millennium. There were six task forces, including one on school readiness which Dave joined.

Even though Dave and his wife, Roberta, have five children and now seven grandchildren, he was not aware that often because of lack of information and resources many children start school unprepared.

“I didn’t know that 85 percent of brain growth occurs by the age of 3,” Dave said in the interview. “I didn’t know lots of the other imperatives of getting children off to a good start in life and then school. I spent two years on this civic assignment. I was still publisher of the Miami Herald, but I ended up thinking that the work was so important that I retired from the Herald to work full time on issues of school readiness and so forth.”

The Children’s Trust is a dedicated source of revenue established by voters in 2002 to improve the lives of children and families in Miami-Dade County. The largest funder of after-school, youth enrichment and summer camp programs in Miami-Dade County, The Trust also offers a wide range of resources for pregnancy and parenting, health insurance access, quality learning, health and nutrition, services for children with special needs and youth employment.

Soon after Dave settled into his position at the Herald in 1989, Alvah Chapman (former CEO of the Herald’s then-parent company, Knight-Ridder, and founder of the Community Partnership for the Homeless) called me and suggested I set up a visit to Overtown and the historic Lyric Theater.

I did, although the theater then was in great disrepair. Dave brought his daughter, Dana, and we toured sites located in the Historic Overtown Folklife Village, from Northwest Second to Third avenues and Eighth to 10th streets.

Later, Dave interviewed me and published a compelling story that helped bring attention to the importance of restoring historic sites as a part of the redevelopment of historic Overtown. Colleagues and friends in various neighborhoods have stories to tell about Dave’s interest in affairs throughout the community.

Before Dave’s Book Fair presentation, I posed three questions to him. His responses may inspire others:

Q: How close is the organization to fulfilling its mission?

A: “The Children’s Trust has made great progress in achieving outcomes for children over the 15 years since it began. It has wonderful leadership in both board and staff. I couldn’t be prouder of these people. But there is so much more to be done toward every child in our community having the fullest opportunity to succeed in school and in life.”

Q: Will there be a need for The Children’s Trust 50 years from now?

A: “There will be a need for The Children’s Trust way beyond my lifetime. The power of compassionate, pragmatic Trust investment in the lives of children and families needs to be its mission and record forever. Quite literally, the future of community and country depend on good people and good organizations (The Trust and many others) caring about everyone’s child.”

Q: Who is David Lawrence Jr ?

A: “I try to do my part, as do so many others. If enough of us pitch in, and if we do so together, just imagine the difference we can make in young lives and futures. My own values are simple, straightforward, basic: Care about people, all people. Work purposefully on behalf of others. Set an example of principled service. Be fair — and loving.”

My answer: He is a humble man who through gaining knowledge, taking action and persistence is a community champion and a warrior for children’s rights.

Dorothy Jenkins Fields, Ph.D., is a historian and founder of the Black Archives, History & Research Foundation of South Florida Inc. Send feedback to djf@bellsouth.net.
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