2012 Woman of Distinction
It was obvious from early on that Alena King Lawson was a leader.
“I met her back in 1969 at Newberry High School. We were friends right away,” recalls Shirley Whitfield. “Whatever was going on, we were right there, doing what needed to be done. I call that leadership.”
That’s been Alena’s MO all her life. Down to earth, exuding integrity, strength and compassion, no matter what role she has filled, she’s served her fellow citizens.
After high school, she graduated from St. Johns River Community College, where she founded the Black Student Union and served as its first president. She went on to Florida State University to earn a bachelor’s in sociology with a minor in criminology.
Alena, 56, holds the distinction of being the first African American female ever to reach the rank of lieutenant at the Gainesville Police Department.
“This was not an easy task for a female minority officer,” says Police Chief Tony Jones. “She worked the streets just like any other officer, answered calls, made arrests, then ventured into the detective division, where she did a lot of the sexual battery investigations. She served as corporal, sergeant, and ultimately lieutenant, where she commanded Community Oriented Police teams. She was very hard working, very innovative, always willing to help. She was also one of the first female supervisors of the Reichert House.”
She served GPD for nearly 21 years. Post GPD, she worked as volunteer coordinator for the Department of Children and Families, and as business community liaison at the Gainesville Job Corps Center (she still serves as chair of their Sia Tech Charter High School’s board of directors). For the past five years, she’s been an investigator at the Public Defenders Office.
“My friends at GPD joke that I’ve gone over to the other side. Instead of putting people in jail, I’m keeping them out of jail,” Alena says. “But arresting people was just a small part of what I did. I actually helped people. I’ve always been a champion for human rights and civil rights, and I’m still a role model for some of the African American females at the police department. I’m still pushing and encouraging.”
She has retained a seat on the Newberry City Commission for the past 10 years. For eight of those years, she’s worked with Keith Ashby, Newberry’s city manager.
“I am in a unique position to know who contributes and who can get things done in this community. Alena is that person,” says Ashby, who adds that Alena is very easy to work with.
Ashby says through her efforts, Newberry’s EEOC program is fueled with outstanding minority candidates.
“She was instrumental in successfully placing the first African American into our city’s senior management staff,” he says.
She helped Newberry welcome the Easton Newberry Sports Complex, an Olympic international training center for archers, and now she’s deeply involved in developing the new Nations Park in Newberry, associated with the Dream Park at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. It will include 16 stadiums in phase one and another 16 in phase two, which will make it the nation’s largest baseball complex.
“She is very concerned about how the city moves into the 21st Century, and that it does so at the right pace — not too fast, not too slow,” says Ashby. “She is a very good legislative liaison expert. She’ll go to Tallahassee and Washington and meet with the delegations. She’s a formidable debater.”
Alena is also active with a new initiative called the 2nd Chance Committee that helps felons who’ve completed their sentences but are struggling to find employment. So far, they are lining up legal help to expunge records and provide entrepreneurial training to former convicts.
Zeta Phi Beta sorority has benefitted from her service and leadership for 27 years. She helped start the Stork’s Nest, Zeta’s project that supplies infant items such as clothing and cribs for pregnant teens.
“She is very passionate about our sorority,” says her friend Ora White. “She goes above and beyond. She’s held every office there is, and she’s always volunteering to be a chairperson for different events and programs. She’s just a born leader. She’s very familiar with resources in Newberry and Gainesville. She can coordinate services for people and intervene for people. She is very giving and has a very charitable spirit. She’s very deserving, a true unsung hero.”
Alena has attended Mt. Zura Full Gospel Baptist Church in Newberry all of her life, and formerly served as chair of its trustee board. She was the sixth child and youngest daughter of the late Floyd and Levonia King, 88, and grew up in a proud, tightly bonded family with a strong Christian faith. She says she internalized the tenet to “do unto others as you would have others do unto you.”
She is the mother of Alana and Lance, both FSU grads and Tampa schoolteachers. Her pride and joy are granddaughters Tya, 7, and Peyton, 2. Alena traveled often with her kids when they were young. Now she hits the road with her grands, says her friend Cassandra Davis.
“We took our grandchildren recently to Atlanta and to Lookout Mountain,” Davis said. “We love to travel.”
Alena and Davis traveled to Paris together several years ago; she is heading to New York City later this month with friends to see a Broadway show. Chicago is on the calendar for July.
When she isn’t working or traveling, Alena enjoys sports. She holds season tickets to FSU football. But people are her true passion.
“Kids gravitate to her. They cling to her,” says Whitfield. “She gets lots of graduation invites. She mentors a large number of people. She’ll be helping people in the community no matter what she’s doing. She has a huge heart. It’s service by action, not by mouth.”
Event and ticket Information
This year, the WOD celebration will be held at Santa Fe’s Northwest campus, 3000 NW 83rd St., in the beautiful new Fine Arts Hall. The event features a program and a finely catered reception with heavy hors d’oeuvres and wine, and is scheduled for 4:30-7 p.m. Thursday, March 15.
Tickets are $35 for adults, $20 for students, and $10 for children 12 and under, and may be purchased online or by calling 352-395-4181.
For more information, please contact Event Coordinator Cheryl Farrell at 352-395-5181.
- Julie Garrett, media relations, for general information about the Women of Distinction recognition program and for the honorees’ contact information, high res images, etc. – 352-395-5430 (office) or 352-870-2924 (cell) or email firstname.lastname@example.org
- Cheryl Farrell, for information about the WOD event, 352-395-5181 or email@example.com