Congressional candidate focused on education

Michele Lawrence, who is challenging Brendan Boyle in the Democratic primary, sees education as a key way to life people out of poverty.

Lawrence

By Tom Beck

Michele Lawrence wakes up at 5 a.m. every day.

“I get up in the morning, I spend time settling in getting my mind right and then I’m reading,” the candidate for Pennsylvania’s 2nd Congressional District told the Times. “I’m reading recaps, I’m reading local news, I’m watching the news just to make sure that I am aware of what’s going on.”

From there, she’ll go to meetings and make lots of phone calls to a variety of people, including her campaign team and donors. From there, she’ll go out and shake some hands.

“I love to sit and meet with groups throughout the district to listen and to learn,” she said. “That’s probably the best part of my day when I’m out and about in the community shaking hands, talking and learning and uncovering what’s needed and being able to take all of that information and go and give it to my team and saying how do we address this? Are there already policies that exist? Are there already resources that exist and then how do we bring that information back out to those that we’ve met with?”

Lawrence, who recently retired from her position as an area president for Wells Fargo, is challenging Rep. Brendan Boyle in the May 15 Democratic primary. School Reform Commission member and former City Councilman Bill Green was rumored to be running, but he did not file.

The Republican candidate is David Torres, a retiree from West Kensington who is expected to focus his campaign on the drug epidemic.

Lawrence says the information she learns from meeting people around the community can be valuable in making a difference — even if she loses the election.

“It is my intent to win. Do not mistake that,” she said. “But what this has done is even if I don’t make it, I am going to work diligently to make sure that the things that have been shared with me on this trail — — that there are resources and tools and programs and opportunities that are still brought back to District 2. We deserve it, they deserve it, and there’s really not a reason why we can’t begin creating some of these things to make them happen.”

The foundation of Lawrence’s campaign starts with education.

“When I have a sound education, there’s not a need for programs like Read By 4th,” she said of a citywide program to double the number of children reading at grade level by the start of fourth grade in Philadelphia. “But it’s scary that we need a Read By 4th because there’s such a gap in our elementary and secondary schools.”

Lawrence said that budget cuts to education are the reason why many American children have been underperforming.

“We have to stop looking at education as a place to go to when there’s time to reallocate or become more efficient around expenditures,” she said. “Education should be the last place we cut, especially since it impacts our people and our people impact our community and our cities and our country. We are a country that is proud to be on the cutting edge and most countries are investing in education, and we have to stop cutting education in order to remain competitive.”

In 2010, Lawrence started Saving Our Boys, a nonprofit that works to prepare young men of color in grades 5 through 12 for success beyond high school via character building, leadership skills development and instilling a sense of social responsibility. She’s currently the CEO. Just recently, the nonprofit’s first 30 children to go through the program all graduated high school.

“They are near and dear to my heart,” she said of the children.

Lawrence, who funded the program herself for the first three years, took the young men to visit college campuses each year and exposed them to men of color who were leaders across the city. She came up with the idea, she said, after she found out in a meeting with former School District of Philadelphia Superintendent Arlene Ackerman that three new prisons were going to be built in Philadelphia based on test scores of 8-year-old boys.

“When I first started this program, all I could think about were these young men and their age correlation to my nephews,” she said. “And to hear that they were going to be inmates instead of graduates meant that I had to do something. And so I did.”

Lawrence may see education as a key way to lift people up and out of poverty, but she doesn’t think it’s the only way. She also thinks the minimum wage should be raised (although she didn’t have a specific number to which it should be raised to), and she also feels more can be done for people struggling with addiction. She calls it a “wellness issue.”

“We need to address the root problem and not just the systems of the utilization of the drug,” she said. “So the utilization of the drug is one component of it. Why they are using the drug is what we need to get underneath and begin treating those things and that is what I’m more in favor of.”

How does she feel about safe injection sites?

“That’s not my first answer or my first suggestion around how we address the issue at all,” she said. “I believe that if we understand that these folks are utilizing drugs then what we need to assess is what’s bringing them to that place and why aren’t we having facilities where we can.”

Lawrence thinks that discussions about funding will be necessary to make the changes she wants to make. She thinks she’s prepared for those conversations.

“Down in Capitol Hill in Congress, there is a serious conversation about green, and I’m familiar with that conversation,” she said. “I do believe that folks want to pull up their bootstraps. We just simply need to give enough lace that they can get through each of the holes.” ••