‘We Need More Free Speech’: How ‘Miss Community’ Is Bringing Civility to Her City

Criminal justice reform activist says it's all about relationships and coming together.

By Published on June 27, 2018

Clovia Lawrence, known in Richmond, Virginia, as “Miss Community,” recently spoke to Daily Signal Editor-in-Chief Rob Bluey about her work in the city and why she’s passionate about bringing people together to solve problems. An edited transcript of her interview is below.

Rob Bluey: You really are about bringing people together, forging strong relationships. You’ve done things on a political level with candidates for statewide office. What is it that drives you and fuels your passion?

Clovia Lawrence: I feel that your community is more than what you’re actually seeing in your community, and I believe that if we are just stuck inside of a box, we fail other communities. So what I wanted to do was get conversations from both sides. Something, folks that you were not in agreement with, give them an opportunity to speak.

We’re more alike than we are apart, and separate from the way we think. We all want to raise our families. We all believe in pulling ourselves up by the bootstrap. And we believe once we take care of our families, we want to give back to the community.

Both parties feel that way. One party is more passionate and is really slow on takeoff. And the other party starts with policy and doesn’t build a great relationship.

Bluey: What does that mean in real life? Because you might have the best policy for the African-American community, but if you don’t have the relationships, you don’t have that level of trust. So how do you go about building that and what is your advice for these candidates who are in that situation?

Lawrence: Let’s start with the African-American. Years ago we were snatched from our parents’ breast as part of slavery. So we have a need for attachment. And the need for attachment, the need for heartfelt, the need for mind stimulus. So if you can stimulate my mind and you can make me feel really good about some of the issues and stresses that I have, I’m going to trust you.

Even if you never do it again, I’m going to remember that first time, the first impression. But over a course of time, what happens is, if it happens in the next year, four years from now, you’re only gonna remember the first time.

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You only remember the way that person made you feel. But does that grow a community? Absolutely not. And we need to add policy to our life. We need more free speech. We need to have conversations about issues and concerns that directly affect us when it comes to African-American community. Or I say black community.

Just having that conversation because we have buzz words, we have politically correct words and we need to get out of that because if I’m going to talk to you free speech, I know about my black people and I know about my blackness. I want to share it with you and these are things that the media can’t possibly share if they didn’t spend time with it.

 

Bluey: Let’s delve into some of the policies because I know one thing that you’re working on is criminal justice reform. This is one of these issues where you actually have had people in both parties, both sides of the ideological spectrum — conservatives and liberals — come together. What is it you’re trying to do in Richmond, Virginia?

Lawrence: When you say criminal justice reform now, it’s the trending topic. We want to take a closer look into that. We have evidence-based practices, but dealing with men and women who have returned from incarceration, there’s a new evidence-based practice.

We understand that there are a lot of mental health issues. If you’ve been institutionalized, there are some mental health issues. We need to deal with those things first. We need to deal with the cognitive. What are your likes and your dislikes? All of the things that you wanted to do prior to your incarceration because every person who was incarcerated wasn’t dumb.

The president of my foundation, for example, he was a few hours away from getting his Ph.D. Every member of my foundation or on our advisory are former offenders. I’m the only one who never committed a crime.

Bluey: Now that’s amazing. You told me a story of someone joining a police force.

Lawrence: Yes. Actually, with the Richmond Police Department, a young man, Paul Taylor. He served 23 years in prison and he was released last July. He always wanted to do a basketball game for inner-city youth with the workshops, life-skill building and to reduce crime in the city.

Since the league started in 2017, crime has been reduced, supported by the chief of police of Richmond, the mayor’s office, the attorney general’s office, and public safety and homeland security.

Bluey: Wow. What does it mean for families to have a second chance? Making sure that the policy is formed in a way that doesn’t lead to somebody going back to prison?

Lawrence: What we do in Virginia, it starts inside the prison and that’s what I want to commend [Department of Corrections] Director [Harold] Clarke for with the cognitive community. With bringing organizations on the outside to teach inmates how to become citizens and that’s what we do. We start the in-care once you leave, everything that you learned in cognitive community, here’s the real deal. Let us teach you how to become a citizen.

We teach you how to become a citizen and how to deal with the yes and the no, the negative. Someone may step on your toe, or they don’t do something you like, you can call out your boys, you can’t do the gang. All of these things, you can’t sell drugs.

Once we teach you how to be a law-abiding loving citizen, that’s what you’re going to teach to our family. And so we can reduce the criminality in our families.

Bluey: And families are critical.

Lawrence: Yes, family is critical.

Bluey: Having a two-parent household, the support and the loving nature. I want to shift gears because you had a successful career in media. What do you attribute to being able to build a following and an audience that really respects you and admires you?

Lawrence: It is so amazing. I’m a graduate of Virginia Union University, which is a historically black college and university. Proud member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, a black Greek letter organization. Everything we learned was about policy, education, family, and social issues.

Becoming a radio announcer, I’m interviewing all of the great people, I’m doing the parties. But over a period of time, you have 10 announcers and everybody’s reading a cue card. So when you want to downsize, you can downsize with nine. So what I did was I took all of the components and everything I learned about social services and made it a part of my delivery.

All of my community service, if it comes voter education and empowerment, I am a third-party voter registration advocate for the Virginia Department of Elections. When it comes to rights restorations for returning citizens, I am a stakeholder.

All of the things that I learned, I put that into my whole package of broadcasting and here we are today, 32 years later.

Bluey: That’s great. How can our audience learn more about the work you do? And if they want to get involved and support your efforts?

Lawrence: Yes, of course. You can follow me on social media @COMMUNITYCLO or just simply go to our website at projectgivebacktocommunity.org.

 

Rob Bluey is editor-in-chief of The Daily Signal, the multimedia news organization of The Heritage Foundation.

Copyright 2018 The Daily Signal

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