David Lawrence Jr. has spent more than two decades working to equalize the playing field for all children in Florida.
As chair of the Children’s Movement of Florida, Lawrence has helped expand access to children’s health insurance, education and literacy.
These days, Lawrence is concerned about the future of the entire country. In his view, Greater Miami should lead the way.
“Here’s a community with 2.8 million people, larger than 16 states,” he said. “We ought to be a place that shows the rest of America how to care for each other and respect and celebrate what we have in common, and learn from our differences,” he said.
It is that civic mindedness that has earned Lawrence the prestigious 2021 Sand In My Shoes award from the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce, given to individuals who have demonstrated exceptional public service in the metro area.
“David joins a prestigious group of business leaders who have created a lasting impact in our community across various industries, including education, entertainment, finance and healthcare,” said Alfred Sanchez, president and CEO of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce, in a statement. “The Chamber is honored to award David with this impactful recognition, and we look forward to formally presenting it to him during our Sand in My Shoes Award ceremony next year.”
The ceremony, which will be held in a hybrid in-person-and-virtual format, is slated for early 2021. Details are being finalized and will be announced on the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce website, miamichamber.org.
Before turning his considerable energies to early childhood education, Lawrence was publisher of the Miami Herald from 1989 to 1999. He has since served on the Governor’s Children and Youth Cabinet and twice chaired the Florida Partnership for School Readiness. In 2002 and 2008 he led successful campaigns for The Children’s Trust, a dedicated source of funding for children in Miami-Dade.
Lawrence, 78, said he learned he was receiving the award during a regular phone call with other former Herald executives.
“All of a sudden a bunch of people at the GMCC were on it,” he said. “At first I thought it was a technological mixup, only it wasn’t, it was deliberate. [Former Herald publisher] Joe Natoli had arranged it. I was just stunned by it.”
In a statement, Natoli credited former Knight-Ridder CEO Jim Batten with bringing Lawrence and his wife Bobbie to Miami.
“For so many people in this community, Dave Lawrence has been an inspiration — mentor, teacher, motivator, friend,” Natoli said.
Lawrence sees his work with children as a continuation of his efforts in the newspaper industry to make a difference in the community.
“It’s a huge part of what energizes me,” he said.
He says he fears today for the social fabric, at the national and local level.
“What I want is to get back to the spirit of what led the Herald to win the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service after Hurricane Andrew, or after 9/11 — that people are in it together,” he said. “We need more of that spirit on a more regular basis. Here’s this huge country, 330 million people. Already, more children of color are born in this country than not. We’d better get with the changes and learn to like it, and love it. It’s about what we can do together, and not act like we’re separate tribes.”
Lawrence says he supports the Black Lives Matter movement.
“Matters of social justice are really important to me,” he said. “I actually think Black Lives Matter may help us to confront ourselves on the topic of racism. I’ve been to 56 countries, and I’ve never been in a country without [racism]. But the only way to make America work is making it work for everyone.”
Said Irene White, board chair of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce: “I am thrilled that in my year as Chamber chair, I am able to honor the work, accomplishments and passion of David Lawrence. His dedication and commitment to our community, along with the stellar work he has done with our children, have made a tremendous impact on countless families. He is truly loved and admired by so many, not just in this community but around the world.”
Lawrence is as busy as ever these days, making Zoom calls as he continues his Children’s Movement chairmanship and taking early, 4-mile walks from his Coral Gables home.
But life has changed.
“I don’t have the contact that I used to, and I miss that,” he said.
It’s one reason why he said he has no plans of letting up. Retirement is out of the question.
“That would be a perilous thing for me to do,” he said. “I’m not saving my energy for the next world.”