David Lawrence Jr., the former newspaper publisher and current chair of The Children’s Movement of Florida, received a rousing standing ovation and was swarmed by RE upper school students at a book signing after delivering an inspiring talk in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. at the Lewis Family Auditorium on January 18.
Lawrence, a former RE trustee and parent, urged students to pursue a life of learning and service, telling them they would find joy in making a difference in the lives of others, and that their “best opportunity for a meaningful life will depend on whether you actually are a lifelong learner.” He also reminded them that Dr. King and others made a difference by confronting injustice and social wrongs.
“We are gathered this morning in the memory and spirit of Dr. King,” Lawrence said. “He brought people together even as he shared hard and great truths.”
Lawrence, who was publisher at the Miami Herald during a decade-long stretch when the paper won five Pulitzer Prizes, was introduced by RE's Director of Inclusion and Community Engagement Wendell Graham '74. Lawrence told students about his working-class upbringing – he was one of nine children of farmer parents, and he attended public school at every level. Yet, Lawrence said, “if I am going to be real with myself and be real with you, I need to acknowledge that I have been privileged.”
Added Lawrence: “I’m a life member of the NAACP – I have been for 40 years – but if I say I can tell you what it’s like to be Black or transgender or gay or a woman, you should be very worried about me. I’m either lying to you or deeply out of touch. But I can learn. However thoughtful or sensitive or compassionate or progressive I might be, I can’t really know what it’s like to be in somebody else’s body or skin.”
Lawrence, who authored A Dedicated Life · Journalism, Justice and a Chance for Every Child, described an attitude of learning as the proper posture for overcoming barriers. Even at 79, he said, he still reads two books a week; his library is filled with books on history, prejudice, racism and anti-Semitism.
During his talk, he shared quotes on leading a meaningful life from Horace Mann, Albert Einstein, John Wooden and Leo Rosten, who said: “I cannot believe that the purpose of life is to be happy. I think the purpose of life is to be useful, to be responsible, to be compassionate. It is, above all to matter, to count, to stand for something, to have made some difference …”
“I believe in you,” Lawrence told RE upper schoolers, concluding his address. “I want you to believe in yourself. I want you to believe what is good and possible within everyone.”
Lawrence greeted dozens of students and faculty after the event, signing copies of his book in the lobby of the auditorium with Head of School Penny Townsend.