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Guest Profile

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Dave Lawrence


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About Dave Lawrence

David Lawrence Jr. retired in 1999 as publisher of The Miami Herald to work in the area of early childhood development and readiness. He chairs The Children’s Movement of Florida, aimed at making children the state’s top priority for investment. 


He has 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 early intervention and prevention funding for children in Miami-Dade. 


In 2002-3 he chaired the Governor’s Blue Ribbon Panel on Child Protection, and in 2011 chaired a similar panel for the Department of Children and Families. In 2002, he was a key figure in passing a statewide constitutional amendment to provide pre-K for all 4 year olds. 


He is the founding chair of the Early Learning Coalition of Miami-Dade and Monroe. The David Lawrence Jr. K-8 Public School opened in 2006. An endowed chair in early childhood studies is established in his name at the University of Florida. In 2015 he was appointed by the Governor as a trustee of Florida A&M University. His memoir, “A Dedicated Life: Journalism, Justice and a Chance for Every Child,” was published in 2018.


Before coming to Miami in 1989, he was publisher and executive editor of the Detroit Free Press. Previously he was editor of The Charlotte Observer, and earlier in reporting and editing positions at four newspapers. (During his tenure as Miami Herald publisher, the paper won five Pulitzer Prizes.)


He is a graduate of the University of Florida and named “Outstanding Journalism Graduate” and subsequently from the Advanced Management Program at the Harvard Business School. 


In 1988, he was honored with Knight-Ridder’s top award, the John S. Knight Gold Medal. His 13 honorary doctorates include one from his alma mater, the University of Florida. His national honors include the Ida B. Wells Award “for exemplary leadership in providing minorities employment opportunities” and the National Association of Minority Media Executives award for “lifetime achievement in diversity.” 


His writing awards include the First Amendment Award from the Scripps Howard Foundation and the Inter American Press Association Commentary Award. He chaired the national Task Force on Minorities in the Newspaper Business, was the 1991-92 president of the American Society of Newspaper Editors and the 1995-96 president of the Inter American Press Association. He was inducted into the Florida Newspaper Hall of Fame in 2010.


He has served the Miami Art Museum (now PAMM), United Way, the New World School of the Arts and the Foundation for Child Development in New York – each as chair — and is a life member of the University of Florida Foundation. He serves on the national boards of the Everglades Foundation and Americans for Immigrant Justice. He was the local convening co-chair of the 1994 Summit of the Americas. And he co-founded a non-profit vocational-technical school in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.


He and Roberta, a master’s graduate in social work from Barry, live in Coral Gables and have 3 daughters, 2 sons and 7 grandchildren. His honors include: “Family of the Year” from Family Counseling Services and “Father of the Year” by the South Florida Father’s Day Council. He has been honored as a Miami Today Living Legend as well as with the Governor’s Shine Award for Inspirational Teachers. 


His honors include the Bob Graham Center for Public Service “Citizen of the Year,” the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce M. Athalie Range Miami Pioneer for Progress Award, the James W. McLamore Outstanding Volunteer Award on National Philanthropy Day, the Trish and Dan Bell Community Empowerment Award, the Children of Inmates “League of Superheroes,” the Cervantes Outstanding Educator Award, and the Coral Gables Community Foundation Education Award. Nationally, he has been honored with the American Public Health Association Award of Excellence, the Lewis Hine Award for Children and Youth, the “Children’s Champion” award from the National Black Child Development Institute, the Fred Rogers Leadership Award from the Grantmakers for Children, Youth and Families, the Terri Lynne Lokoff Child Care Advocate Award, the CNC (Cuban American National Council) Lifetime Achievement Award, The National Center for Victims of Crime for “extraordinary leadership and service on behalf of abused children,” the National Association for Bilingual Education for “building early literacy skills for all children,” and a Spirit of Fatherhood Hall of Fame inductee by the National Partnership for Community Leadership.

Episode Overview

Chair of the Children’s Movement of Florida, Dave Lawrence, joins Alberto Lidji to discuss advocacy, politics and coalitions in support of children in Florida and beyond


During the episode we speak about Dave’s efforts to drive forward legislative change and mobilise individuals at local and national levels to encourage investments in children’s early years and improve their outcomes.


Dave retired from his role as publisher of the Miami Herald 20 years ago to focus on children’s ‘early years’. He is Chair of the Children’s Movement of Florida which aims to make children the number one priority for investment in Florida – the 3rd biggest state in the US, and the 17th largest global economy, if it were a country.


We hear how there has been much progress in Florida over the past 20 years and how, today, every 4-year old in Florida is entitled to a high quality kindergarten experience. There has been support from voters, the Governor’s office and city mayors across the state; including a successful campaign called #100Mayors for early childhood.


Dave has mobilised resources in Florida and engaged with politicians across the political spectrum at local, state and national level. He has also lectured internationally on the benefits of investing in early years.


In 1996, former Florida governor, Lawton Chiles, asked Dave to join the Governor’s Commission on Education to look at education in the next millennium. Dave led the taskforce on school readiness and, in the process, learned an extraordinary amount about children’s early years – so much so that he decided to retire from his post as publisher of the Miami Herald and work full time on issues focused on early childhood. 


On the topic of driving forward legislative change, Dave notes there’s much power at the local level.  Dave wants people to be excited about supporting children and to talk about it often. He notes that numerous US presidents have been vocal in their support for early years, irrespective of their political affiliation, and he notes their power comes in using their presidential platform to be highly vocal about supporting children.


Dave remarks that, yes, just about everybody loves children; but too many don’t understand the practical imperatives about this. 


He notes that in the US, despite its position as the world’s leading economy, 3 out of 4 young people aged 17 to 24 cannot enter the US military – they can’t join because of criminal records, substance abuse, academic problems etc. This is an unacceptable state of affairs.


Only real quality in education brings positive outcomes; it’s not about simply having a spot for a child in a classroom – it’s about actually learning something, about being engaged and being exposed to brain-stimulating activities. 


The importance of play – and learning through play – should not be underestimated. Play is really important – you learn a lot about getting along with other people. We need to develop the full human being – it’s not about drilling 3-year olds in numbers. Nothing is more important than a nurturing, caring, knowledgeable, loving parent or caregiver.


Ultimately, to improve the reality for children, one needs to push on many fronts; communicating with parents; engaging with the legislative process, connecting with diverse stakeholders.  Dave wants to get the local community involved, including many who would not usually be classed as the usual suspects in the field of early childhood, including the faith community, business actors, the civic community, the political community etc – he wants them all to work on this issue.


Dave notes that a major moment in Florida happened a few years back when the Florida Chamber of Commerce – the principal business organisation in the state – decided that early childhood is a major business imperative, impacting the future of their workforce and talent pool in Florida.


Dave briefly discusses his book — ‘A Dedicated Life: Journalism, Justice and a Chance for Every Child’ – and underscores the point that all proceeds from sales go to support the Children’s Movement of Florida.  The book is partly traditional memoire and partly about what’s happening in the field of early childhood and what else still needs to be done. 


Dave’s key takeaway: he notes that within each of us is an ability to make something happen and, ultimately, he shares the sentiment that it would be a shame for one to die before having had won some battle for humanity.  There is so much to be done all over the world and so many ways for people to drive change.  At the end, we ask ourselves, ‘what did your life mean’?... the answer won’t have much to do with accumulating resources. What difference did you make in an individual life and in larger ways? That’s the joy of life. Combine that with lifelong learning and you have a life where you can feel pretty good about yourself. 

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Additional Resources

Dave Lawrence on LinkedIn


The Children’s Movement of Florida - website


The Children’s Movement of Florida on Twitter


‘A Dedicated Life’ by Dave Lawrence

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