Kareem Lawrence

Executive Producer, Sony.com

2009_1008_KareemLawrence-240x300A common rising up story — a mother determined to see her son succeed finds a way and one opportunity leads to the next. For Kareem Lawrence, Sony executive, the challenges he faced at prep school went beyond race.

Where did you go to school?

Kareem Lawrence (KL): My prep school experience was at Friends Seminary — a little Quaker school on 16th Street between Third Avenue and Rutherford Place in New York. Though the school is from K – 12 I only had good fortune to be there for high school from 1985 to 1989. I luckily got a scholarship from A Better Chance [formerly known as ABC] to attend.

What did going to Friends Seminary mean to you?

KL: Going to Friends broke my connection to my neighborhood and to life of the friends I grew up with nearly completely. It was the most pivotal moment of my life — an irrevocable change. The culture at home and at school couldn’t be more different. At home I saw the slow descent of some kids in my neighborhood – some of them friends — into crime both petty and felonious. At school I encountered kids living in privilege and comfort I had never imagined. Only when I arrived at Friends did I truly learn that New York is a city of extremes. Being caught between the two worlds I could become a part of neither. In many ways I still travel along that borderline — transitioning between two worlds.

Despite this sense of otherness born of this back and forth I can say that the educational foundation I gained as a result of going to Friends has been immeasurably valuable. I didn’t always use it well — a little more discipline on my part would have helped – but I was nonetheless given skills and knowledge that still prove to be useful.

Any thoughts about your prep school experience?

KL: I’m glad to have attended Friends though I do have some ambivalence about some aspects of the experience. Most of my ambivalence stems not from being a minority in a majority white school (the mix was surprisingly good considering) but from being a kid from limited means around kids who had nearly anything they wanted at their disposal. I don’t mean this solely with regard to the contrast of financial wealth and poverty but also of expectation and resources.

Arriving in high school I just wasn’t at all ready for the demands of a prep school. The educational foundation I had just didn’t match those of the kids that were already there. Scholarship kids who joined Friends in their middle school years were on much better academic footing than I was. Their parents knew what to expect and expected more.

The first year or two was already a tangled mess of teenage insecurities coupled with a profound sense inadequacy about my ability to do the work. The more I allowed this feeling of inadequacy to grow the more I shrank from seeking the help I needed to succeed.

I guess in recounting this “feeling/memory” I would say I could have used a lifeline when I arrived. At the time I rarely asked for help even when it was obvious that I needed it. It may be unfair to expect help to come unsolicited but as a kid without the background of most at the school I really didn’t know I could ask. I thought I would simply know what to do if I was paying attention or was smart enough. Since my mom didn’t always know how to help me academically and I couldn’t imagine the teachers or counselors really understanding where I was coming from I often suffered in silence. I know now I could have accomplished more — if frankly I had been more humble and unafraid to ask for help when it was needed.

What are you doing now?

KL: I’m married and a father of a beautiful and precocious little girl. I work at Sony as the Executive Producer of Sony.com — a position I arrived at after years working for various internet start ups. When I first starting working at Sony I used to regularly stare out of the windows of the top floors to see my old neighborhood in the distance and marvel at how I got to where I am.

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