Lawrence Watson was born and raised in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, where his parents settled upon migrating from the South in the early 50's. Although nurtured in Brooklyn, Lawrence's musical roots are in the Deep South. Each summer he and his brothers traveled back to Bennettsville, South Carolina and picked cotton, 'towed' tobacco, and witnessed the 'moanin' bench. Black southern Baptist believed when a child turned 12 he was then responsible for his sins. During the annual revival meetings, you had to pray the mantra, 'oh Lord save my soul' over and over until God touched you. Proof of your born again status was witnessed by the elders when you jumped up shouting, speaking in tongues and filled with the Holy Ghost. These early experiences in the Black church, and his parents' teachings and wisdom empowered Watson with a foundation that survived the vicious attack of the New York City Public School system. The late Deacon Elonzo and Thelma Watson, themselves in their early teens, struggled to raise three Black boys in the early 50's. Times were tough in those days, living in a one-bedroom tenement, where gangs and heroin ruled the streets. 'You grow up quickly as a child, when the landlord bangs on the door early on a Sunday morning demanding rent, and your Mother sends you to the door to tell the landlord she is not home--only to have the landlord push the child out of the way, enter the house, go directly to the bedroom closet and rip down the curtain hiding Momma--demanding the rent immediately.' Watson was born in an era when a Black boy in the inner city was 'schooled' in the politics of race and class by the time he reached the first grade. At a time when almost all the teachers were white and all the students were Black, Lawrence was lucky in that his first teacher was a strong Black woman-modeled after the strong Black mother and aunts who nurtured him from the cradle to the first grade. When Lawrence came home from school he saw a tired, but loving father who supplied his family with strength and a foundation that contradicted the television image of 'Father Knows Best.' Watson's father had no energy to play baseball after a hard day of working in the factory; he was not always a load of smiles, and knowing that the next meal for the family was guaranteed. It took many years before Lawrence realized what a man his father was. During a period when Black Fathers were barred from the job market and Black Mothers had no choice but to travel to Long Island as sleep in domestics, Watson and his brothers had the benefit of a working father and mother. Each night they sat down as a family unit and praised God for their abundance of blessings. Coming of age during the 60's, Lawrence was labeled learning disabled. He read one book in middle school and the rest of the time he played in the school corridors while the teachers sat at their desks reading these big, black books. Years later, Watson would learn that most of those full time teachers were simultaneously registered as full time law students and were using their jobs as public school teachers to underwrite their law school education. Watson recalls confronting the principal in middle school when a movie, The Way It Is, aired on public television and offensively depicted him and his classmates at Junior High School 57. Produced by New York University School of Education, the film portrayed the students as illiterate savages running the halls, unable to read, a menace to society. An 8th grader at the time, Lawrence stormed into the principal's office and confronted him on his decision to allow the school to be depicted in this manner. This was Watson's first exposure to the concept of being 'paid off.' To silence him, the principal offered Lawrence a ticket to a closed screening of the film, To Sir with Love. Having viewed the television movie, The Way It Is, the producers of To Sir With Love apparently felt that white teachers in Bed Sty could do their jobs better if they watched Sidney Portier working with white kids in England! Steadfast and more outspoken than ever, young Watson demanded redress. He requested that special letters be sent to every high school in New York declaiming the validity of the film. Impressed with his tenacity, the head guidance counselor recommended Watson for a special program at Thomas Jefferson High School in Brooklyn. The 'College Discovery' program was created after the murder of Martin Luther King to identify Black youth in the inner city who had academic potential but were at risk of falling between the cracks of an unresponsive public school system. Watson had done what was impossible for many kids in his neighborhood; he had made it to high school. His Black guidance counselor dissuaded the budding 'edutainer' from pursuing a career in music She said, 'We have enough Black singers and dancers!' Lawrence closeted his musical ambitions, and decided he would become a teacher and try to change for others the harsh reality he had experienced in public schools. Watson recalls the day he and his classmates received their SAT scores. All the students ran down the halls yelling, 'I got over 600.' Finally, Watson was heard to say, 'I got 600 also.' One of his friends said to him, 'On which part?' Watson perplexed by the question replied, 'My entire score was 600.' At this point, all his friends broke into uncontrollable laughter. Watson stood there embarrassed, questioning once again whether he had what it takes to succeed. Once he revealed this score, teachers, administrators and his peers began to treat him as if he were mentally retarded. Counselors delivered the bad news that he would never be admitted to a college. He was encouraged to switch from the academic high school program to a vocational trade. His principal counselor forbids him to apply to a four-year school. During this period of affirmative action, some school might admit him. Her view was that Watson should attend a community college and if by chance he made it out of there, then he could consider transferring to a university. Watson secretly applied to two colleges and was admitted to the State University of New York at Oswego where he majored in secondary education and history. He then completed a master's degree (MPS) at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. Watson's freshman year at Oswego was challenging. He had to revisit the ghosts of his poor public school education and work harder than everyone around him to make it through freshman year. Reading the autobiographies of Malcolm X and Paul Robeson helped him understand oppression, how his public school education had reinforced in him the notion that he was inferior, systematically trying to destroy his positive sense of self and break his spirit as a young African American male. Through it all, Watson's loving, extended family and the heroes whose life's examples he had determined to follow aided him in surmounting the worst conditions. It was at this defining point in Watson's life that he knew his success would one day come from serving as a role model for many young people coming from similar circumstances. During the Oswego years, Watson founded Uhuru Sasa (Freedom Now), a Black newspaper within the college newspaper, The Oswegonian. He auditioned and played the lead in several dramatic productions, and finally decided in his senior year, through the urging of his college roommate, Jerry Seinfeld, to pursue his music. One impressive audition landed him a spot in the voice department and a senior recital. After graduating from Oswego, Lawrence accepted a teaching post at the Auburn Correctional facility in Auburn, New York. At 21, his once again confronted his past. Many of the inmates were boys from the neighborhood. These were the same boys who had ridiculed him as a child. Watson faced another moral dilemma. He remembered well being called a 'faggot' because he carried a book bag to school and had to be in the house before midnight. He was 'dogged' because he finished high school, and he remembers that on the day he left for college there was an impromptu parade, because he was the first Black boy from the projects to go upstate--to college, not to prison. Now was Lawrence's chance to get back at these boys for all the years they made him miserable. One afternoon while walking through the yard, he had his moment. One of the Brothers he grew up with ran up to him and put his arms around him in front of all the inmates in the yard and said, 'Hey man, tell them you my boy ... we grew up together in the projects.' Watson now a hero, looked up to by the inmates as the only Black teacher in the prison school, thought for a moment and realized that he saw a reflection of himself in the Brother's eyes. Would Watson continue the cycle and reject this brother as he had been rejected? Lawrence replied, 'Sure we were boys!' Later, he found out that in prison yard communications, by allowing an inmate to put his arms around him in the main yard meant that as a civilian he was prostituting for that inmate. The inmate now had the special status of bragging that he was Watson's pimp. Naive and now filled with guilt that he had made it out of the ghetto, Watson spent night and day preparing for his classes at the prison. In a strange way, he became a prisoner himself. Watson was so devoted to the Brothers in the jail that he did not realize he was isolating himself from his family and friends. Prison officials constantly harassed him for continually expanding the educational program and demanding new books for the inmates. Eventually, the dedicated teacher was set up and accused of bringing contraband into the prison. Watson was devastated by the accusation and, upon the advice of the local NAACP chapter, he resigned from the prison staff in order not to have a blemish on his resume. Watson became a recluse at home for the next two weeks, drapes drawn, phones unplugged. He finally snapped out of his depression when two friends got the landlord to open the door and rescue him. Watson then realized he had done nothing wrong and traveled to Albany to speak to the New York State Commissioner of Prisons. The Commissioner informed Watson that the officials at the prison had lied to him and had orchestrated this scheme to force him out before his probation period ended. Prison officials had told Watson that his termination had come from the central office of the commissioner. One of the early political lessons in Watson's professional career came when he met with the Commissioner. Watson found himself in a meeting with several state attorneys, human resource specialists, and several damage control consultants. Watson instantly realized that everyone was interested in what he had to say, and scared by the possibility that he might take his story public. The commissioner, an overweight, middle-aged Black man, ordered everyone out of the room but Lawrence. He turned to Watson and said, 'Look, Larry, if you were my son I would tell you to sue the shit out of us. But you are not my son, so I will fight you and destroy you if I have to. I got my job because of the Attica uprising, and I'll be damned if I am going to loose it defending you. I will fight you and use all the clout I have to defend this institution from a lawsuit by you.' Watson did what he knew he should have done a long time ago. He called Momma and Daddy. As always, they were fountains of wisdom. Momma knew her son and said, 'You were too soft for that job anyway. You need to come on home. You are too kindhearted; you want to help people too much. Boy, come on home!' Fortuitously, he returned home to find in the mail a few weeks later an acceptance letter to The Africana Studies and Research Center at Cornell University. During his graduate years at Cornell, Lawrence's artistic muse compelled him to return to his music. Early in his musical training, Watson had determined that as a performer, he had tremendous affinity with the great Paul Robeson. During Watson's first year in graduate school, Robeson died and Watson was chosen to represent The Africana Studies and Research Center at a special memorial conference at Purdue University. Watson returned from the conference singing of love, pain, passion and suffering. He made a decision that has guided him to this day: Whatever he sang he would sing with dignity and an eye to teaching and leading by example. Lawrence resumed singing with a new purpose: To sing about the history and social movement that produced heroes like Paul Robeson. Watson pursued advanced training in voice with the acclaimed soprano Barbara Troxell. Upon completing graduate school, Watson was appointed as the Dean for the senior class at Cornell University-at the unusually young age of 23. The appointment was highly controversial because of his age and color. The late Harry Levin, however, then the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, recognized Watson's promise and talents. Dean Levin also knew that if he did not take a stand to make this radical statement, a young Black man would never break into the senior ranks of the Cornell administration. Soon, Watson was made Chairman of the advising department and became known as 'the singing dean of upstate New York.' A rising academic star, Lawrence gained recognition beyond Ithaca, which led to an appointment as an Administrative Dean at Harvard University and a move to Boston, Massachusetts. Continuing to perform as a musical artist, Lawrence was invited to perform in Melbourne, Australia. Shortly after relocating to Boston, Watson was also tapped to sing the leading male role in Boston's longest running Christmas production, Black Nativity. There then came a long cabaret run at the Westin Hotel's Turner Fisheries Restaurant in Boston's prestigious Back Bay. Watson broke all house attendance records. Numerous appearances on local television shows and at musical festivals followed. He studied voice with the late Boston based Eddy Watson and John Andrew Ross. In 1990 Harvard University alleged that due to a budget deficit Watson's post as Dean for Faculty Affairs and the entire Office of Academic Administration would be eliminated. Despite the schools lack of funds, The Dean hired contractors to come in hours after Watson's departure and demolish the office space once occupied by the Graduate School of Designs only Black Dean. Rather than accepting his 'dismissal' as defeat, leaving Harvard liberated Watson to devote himself fully to his ultimate calling. Ironically, on the same day he was let go from Harvard, the African National Congress selected Lawrence as the local performer to sing for Nelson Mandela, newly released from prison and on his first visit to Boston and the United States as a free man. A few years later, Watson would himself travel to South Africa to perform for President Mandela. Acclaim and musical opportunities for Watson have expanded over the years solely by audience word-of-mouth. Highlights include a 1993 Playboy Jazz Festival appearance at the Hollywood bowl with the late, legendary Dorothy Donegan, and a more recent appearance with Al Green and Jean Carne. He worked closely with Sarah Caldwell on two of her productions and sang the role of one of the Jazz Singers in the Bernstein Mass. He sang on the PBS special, The American Experience: The Fisk Jubilee Singers, The Boston Globe Jazz and Blues Festival, a Pennsylvania PBS special, Seeing is Believing: Violence and Children, the Discovery Channel's, Killed By The Klan and C-SPAN'S coverage of the Saturday School program's Thurgood Marshall Dedication at Harvard Law School with Justice Stephen Breyer and Mrs. Thurgood Marshall. Watson embodies his positive message in his art and in his commitment to human and civil rights. His challenge to discrimination at Harvard University is referenced in law professor and author Derrick Bell's 1994 bestseller, Confronting Authority. In 1996, the Boston-based Civil Rights Organization Community Change awarded Watson their highest honor, the Drylongso Award, for his consistent and courageous contributions in the struggle against racism. In l999, Watson was honored by the State University at Oswego with the 25th Class Reunion Award for his outstanding career accomplishments and commitment to community service. And in 2001, the Cambridge chapter of the NAACP presented Watson with the Alvin E. Thompson Civil Rights Award for his outstanding leadership and promotion of community empowerment. Watson remains an outstanding educator and civil rights activist, using the classroom, the stage, and the electronic media as platforms for social and political change in America-as effective vehicles for facilitating healthy dialogue on issues of race and class. He writes the kind of socially significant lyrics that chronicle and document the social history of the post-60's era in America and their relevance to today's youth culture. He is proud to be a product of affirmative action and is currently completing his manuscript, From Brooklyn to Harvard-Like Cream Risin' on Kuta Piss! In this autobiography, Watson answers the contemporaries who have been critical of affirmative action, suggesting that their own success and mobility have nothing to do with this important legislative order signed by President Johnson. SaveOurSelves Productions and Consulting, which Watson founded in 1993, is committed to preserving, promoting, and creating an atmosphere that confirms the rich legacy and contributions made by people of color in music, politics, labor, education and popular American culture. While many have retreated from the core values, which ignited America's second American Revolution--the Civil Rights Movement-SaveOurSelves, aims to inspire progressive action through the electronic media, theater written expression, music, corporate philanthropy, educational institutions, and community development corporations. Watson is committed to a future for our children that is better than the one they will inherit. 'If we don't save ourselves, no one else will,' explains Watson. 'In the African American experience, music must be more than something beautiful and entertaining. The music should reflect on the conditions of our--the human--community and each artist's contribution to a world of peace, equality, tolerance and harmony.'
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