Lawrence was born in Buffalo, NY. A child of a military family he moved around a lot and graduated from Hoover High School outside of Birmingham, Alabama. He came to Athens in 2008 to attend the University of Georgia, where he earned a degree in Psychology. He went on to earn a master’s in Education from the University of Pennsylvania and is currently a doctoral student at UGA finishing up a PhD in Education Administration and Policy. Lawrence was the CEO of the Clarke County School District’s Career Academy for 5 years, working to boost enrollment (which went from 78 to close to 350 enrolled). He currently serves as Chief of Community Engagement and Strategic Partnerships for the district, doing outreach to community organizations and businesses and helping school leaders build capacity to understand and better work within the community at large. He also oversees the Public Relations and Communications Department, Family and Community Engagement Department, and School Governance for the district. In 2015, Lawrence founded College Factory, a nonprofit based on a pilot program he initiated in West Philadelphia high schools. College Factory focuses on college readiness, pairing college students and community members with high school students to provide coaching through the process of choosing colleges, filling out applications, writing essays and staying motivated and on track. College Factory also offers SAT/ACT test prep and community workshops for people who are supporters of college students to help them understand the current college environment, NCAA eligibility, issues underdocumented students face, etc. Lawrence served on the board of the Clarke County Mentors Program, and currently serves on the United Way of Northeast Georgia, the Envision Athens Oversight Committee, and is a member of the Network for Southern Economic Mobility, which works with the mayor and city manager to implement policy to help low-income members of the community to rise up faster. He lives in Winterville with his cat, Basi.
What is your favorite part of your career?
My favorite part, I would have to say, is I really enjoy just networking and engaging with people. When I think over my career I like the fact that I have met so many people, and I have had the opportunity to meet people from diverse populations and backgrounds, and not just race and gender, but everything, different socio-economic statuses, different belief systems, cultures and it really helps to expand my mind when I think about how do we strive to impact communities. I get to use these experiences to drive ideas and innovation for students and families. Ultimately, I just love meeting and learning from different people and learning about what people do: hiking, canoeing, reading, swimming, just so many different things. I just kind of nerd out when I meet people who do things that are different from me. It helps expand my mind like, oh, I should try that or I should be able to do that. My dad always said I am not a man of one hobby, I am a man of many experiences, because I just love experiencing things. As a teenager that became my answer to what is your biggest hobby and I would say, I just like experiencing things. It is kind of true. I do. I just like trying things out, whether I’m like, this is cool or I hated that.
When you are not working, what are some of your favorite things to do in Athens?
I am a big fan of our trails and our parks. I always see a lot of people out there on the trails at Virginia Walker at Trail Creek, Dudley, Firefly, Ben Burton. I like being outside and walking the trails. I am a pretty clumsy person I will admit, so sometimes I think I should probably not do some of these things myself, but I like finding structures that I jump on top of or somehow find myself in the middle of the Oconee River or where I can jump on some rocks to get there. I feel like I’m a parkour master without the training. Outside of work, I don’t have the best work/life balance admittedly. As you can imagine, my list stays so long and I actually really thrive when I work because I enjoy doing things that I know are going to help and impact others. So, sometimes that line between work and life is a little difficult for me to separate, but when I am not working I like meditating; I like hiking and swimming, when it is not cold outside and I have a membership at an indoor pool. I swam in high school and I was an assistant coach at Clarke Central for a couple of years. So, swimming, reading, that is about it. I don’t do a lot of those things that I enjoy right now because I am in a Ph.D program, have College Factory and work, so I don’t have a lot of time right now.
If you could see any band, musician or show, anywhere, who or what would it be and where?
I would actually go with Michael Jackson, and I would love to see Michael Jackson performing, this probably sounds weird, but on a beach in a beach scene. I think part of it is because I love the beach, I love the water. But, too, I am always fascinated when I watch videos of Michael Jackson performing. I can feel the energy through the screen, and it seems like there is this overwhelming energy that takes over people, just when he comes on stage and he performs. I just wonder what that is like. I am also a really big fan of some of his songs like We Are The World, Man in the Mirror. There are several songs that he sings that are pre my time, but just have really powerful messages. So, hearing him perform some of those songs so that I can feel that energy and see what he was feeling.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Stay in the present. Be in the present and just know that it works out and will work out. There will be challenges. There will always be challenges, but no challenge is insurmountable so just stay focused and stay present. Enjoy the moment. Moments pass us by really quickly so we have to enjoy moments and enjoy the people.
Do you have a favorite book or a book you find yourself rereading, referencing or gifting most often?
Yes, I gift The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom by Don MIguel Ruiz a lot. I started getting in the habit of giving it to my students and my students’ parents when I used to be at the school level when I was an administrator at The Career Academy. I have reread probably at this point ten or fifteen times. I literally just gifted it yesterday, now that I think about it. At this point, the author should probably hire me as a salesman, but The Four Agreements has become kind of my self help book. I enjoy reading it, and I like gifting it to others. And it’s not that long, my students appreciate that.
Do you have a favorite movie or remember the first movie you saw in a movie theatre?
The first movie I remember seeing in a movie theatre, I am sure it was not my first movie, but the one that was most memorable to me was The Mummy. I think it is because when I was growing up I wanted to be an Egyptologist, that was my career goal in elementary and middle school. I was always fascinated by Egyptology, I love Egyptian mythology. I kind of got into Greek and Roman mythology, but Egyptian mythology really stuck, so seeing The Mummy was such a cool movie. At that time, I was trying to teach myself how to read hieroglyphs and speak Arabic. I kind of got pretty good at it! But, unfortunately as an adult I lost the flare, but I also was told in high school that Egyptology was not a real career because there was nothing left to discover, which is not true today because they just discovered another site a few months ago and that could have been me! So yeah, Egyptology and The Mummy was it for me. I watched it a lot afterwards. It was just really intriguing to me.
If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?
It would be Egypt. It is on my list of places to go. Well, one, I have this kind of subconscious hope that I would just discover something by happenstance, just trip over a rock that would turn out to be a statue that leads to a pyramid that then opens into an undiscovered kingdom. I am a very imaginative person so that’s one reason. But I think just having spent a good portion of my life having been fascinated with their government, history, cultures, traditions, and their religion and just their life. I would just love to go to Egypt and experience it for just all that it has to offer, also recognizing at times there are safety concerns of course would play into whether I could go or not. So, yes I would love to go to Egypt sometime hopefully soon.
If you could put any message on a billboard, what would it be?
Be The Best You. I tell myself that a lot, so I feel like I would put that with a smiley face next to it.
If you could have lunch with anyone, dead or alive, who would it be and why?
The first person that comes to mind, so I am just going to say it is, I always say I would be interested in having lunch with Adolf Hitler, not because I support or agree at all with the terrible things that Hitler did, but I have always been curious about the mindset, the motivation, and the drive of his actions. I don’t understand how someone could have that much disdain for a group of people, but then also be able to lead masses of people to also feel that way and take such nefarious actions against them. And for years! I mean obviously Hitler having lunch with me as a Black male probably wouldn’t go well, given who he was, and who I am, but I am just curious just to see what is the motivating factor behind everything that transpired during his tenure and leadership and what was the root cause of his hate. Not that I could change it, but I think sometimes hate comes out of misunderstanding or lack of belief, or you just don’t understand people. I would love to talk to him about that over lunch (if he didn’t kill me while I was sitting there!) and see if there is an opportunity for change there.
What three words or phrases come to mind when you think of the word “home”?
Warmth, love and peace.