In just thirteen years in Ithaca, Leon Lawrence touched a huge swath of the community, and this Sunday afternoon, the Space at GreenStar will host a memorial event for the many who considered him a friend and mentor.
Mr. Lawrence came out of retirement just last summer to take the role of executive director at the Southside Community Center, a community organization dating back over 80 years that “serves as a beacon for the residents of the Southside community and beyond through a mission to affirm, empower, and foster the development of self-pride among the African American citizens of greater Ithaca.”
Before that, he was assistant director of Cornell’s Office of Minority Educational Affairs, now part of the Office of Academic Diversity Initiatives, and director of the Office for Diversity and Inclusiveness in Cornell’s College of Architecture, Art & Planning. He had also served as a chair of the Tompkins County Human Rights Commission, and was one of two main organizers of a Black Lives Matter march in October 2015 that brought together Ithaca community and campus groups.
“This is very much a loss for us all,” says John W. Rawlins III, who worked with Mr. Lawrence as a Cornell student, served as assistant director for multicultural affairs at Ithaca College for eight years, and is now assistant director of leadership development at Johns Hopkins University. “Leon was the gold standard of a servant leader,” he tells us. “As a student at Cornell that worked closely with him, I admired the way he served his community.”
The Southside Community Center evolved out of the Francis Harper Women’s Club, a group of black women in the Ithaca community that in 1927 organized the Serv-Us League to serve the residents of Ithaca’s southside. The current building was built in 1937 by the WPA, and dedicated in a 1938 ceremony attended by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt.
Mr. Lawrence, who passed away this weekend following an illness, leaves behind his wife, Diana, and children Noel, Eric, Gabriella, and Daniel. “Leon was extremely selfless and always made himself available to those who needed him,” says Mr. Rawlins. “He will live on through all of us that he touched.”
A memorial gathering is scheduled for the Space at GreenStar at 701 West Buffalo Street this Sunday, January 29th, from 2-7pm, with a program scheduled from 2:30-4:30.