On a sun-drenched summer morning last week, the Coalition for Black and Jewish Unity honored outgoing Congresswoman Brenda Lawrence. Bagels with Brenda paid tribute to Representative Lawrence’s years of commitment to her district, the state of Michigan and the nation, especially her work in advancing relations between Blacks and Jews.
Rep. Lawrence has lived a quintessentially American life. From humble beginnings on Detroit’s east side, she graduated from Pershing High School and headed to college at Central Michigan University. Shortly after graduation, she took a job in the U.S. Post Service — starting off as a mail carrier — where she would stay for 30 years. From there, Lawrence served on the Southfield City Council and, in 2001, was elected Southfield’s first African American and first female mayor, a position she held for 14 years. At age 60, she threw her hat in the ring for a newly formed congressional seat ultimately won by Gary Peters. She prevailed two years later, despite being outspent nearly two-to-one by her opponent.
The mail lady had become a Congresswoman.
Speakers at the event recalled Lawrence’s remarkable journey and the issues for which she has fought along the way — women's rights, climate change, gun control, investments in higher education. She co-sponsored the Assault Weapons Ban. She helped secure $17 million for infrastructure improvements in her district. She helped pass the bipartisan Postal Service Reform Act.
People ask me why I care about the USPS so much and it’s because I has an amazing 30-year career at the Postal Service.
In Congress, Brenda Lawrence has been a steady supporter of Israel. She was particularly proud of her vote to fund the Iron Dome last year. In 2019, she co-founded and co-chaired the bipartisan Congressional Caucus on Black-Jewish Relations, the first Black and Jewish caucus in the U.S. Congress. The caucus was formed to “strengthen Black-Jewish relations, bolster mutual understanding, and to initiate measures to combat hate and stereotypes.” At the kick-off celebration on Capitol Hill, a who’s-who of prominent lawmakers, members of our Coalition for Black and Jewish Unity attended as Rep. Lawrence’s guests. Cantor Dan Gross from Adat Shalom sang Hatikvah and then-local pastor and gospel singer Pauline Plummer led the crowd in singing We Shall Overcome.
At Bagels with Brenda, the guest of honor spoke about her passion for public service and the importance of the involvement of ordinary citizens. She gave a brief but vivid account of the harrowing moments of January 6, 2021. She recalled being rushed away while hearing pounding and gunshots, frantically trying to figure out how to put on a gas mask. Her first reaction was anger — “Hey, I’m from Detroit. I first thought, bring it on.” She’s still angry, she shared tearfully.
She praised the work of the January 6th Committee, one of the reasons why she remains encouraged. Although a proud Democrat, she explained that she has always been committed to bipartisanship, which sometimes puts her at odds with her party. Just recently, she said, she refused to back a police spending bill because she felt it didn’t go far enough, a position that “really angered Nancy Pelosi.” She addressed the deep political divisions in Washington, but explained that behind the scenes, there are often moments of friendship and kindness between Democrats and Republicans.
Despite our political differences, I know if I needed help, I can always call on Kevin McCarthy.
Brenda Lawrence leaves office in January. She said her plans are still uncertain but she knows she will always stay involved in public service. It’s her life mission, she explained, central to the values instilled in her as a child and her deep faith.
As a constituent and long-time supporter of Brenda’s, I have long marveled at her tenacity, her professioanlism, her accessibility and her kindness. She has blown through any barrier society threw at her and stands as a powerful role model for Black women and for anyone working to overcome obstacles in pursuit of the greater good.
The mail lady, in other words, has delivered.