Lawman Lynch always speaks his mind. In May 2010, while still living in Jamaica, the activist and artist criticized the prime minister for his reluctance to sign an extradition request for Christopher “Dudus” Coke, who was wanted in the United States for gun- and drug-running. “If it was any other democracy, the noble thing or the correct thing would have been to resign, and that was what I said on television,” Lynch says. Within hours, Lynch’s car was firebombed and friends were pleading with him to leave the island for his own safety.
“I still insisted on staying in Jamaica,” he says. But the strain on his family was too great, and Lynch moved to the United States soon afterward. “The idea was to come to America for about a month, just to give the whole scene a break.” Things would die down, he hoped, and he could go home. Instead, Lynch ended up applying for political asylum in the U.S. and received it in January 2011.
“My idea of advocacy was that you had to be in a person’s face,” he says. Confident and deeply earnest, Lynch’s forthright manner is as much a personality trait as it is a tactic.
The 27-year-old was born in Kingston, Jamaica, and brought up in a home bustling with relatives. When he was 7 years old, his aunt was president of the Citizens Community Association, a local civic group, and took him to a meeting. The group’s secretary was absent and Lynch volunteered to take notes. “I think that was where it started,” Lynch says, “wanting to be involved in community development and having a passion to see young people succeed.”
In his late teens, he became involved with the Kingston and St. Andrew Action Forum, a community development organization that represents more than 60 communities across Jamaica and aims to provide better social services for the island’s poorest, most marginalized citizens. At 21, Lynch was elected the forum’s public relations officer and was eager to attract more young people to the organization. He founded a youth branch of the Forum, becoming its first president.
“We got a lot of media time,” Lynch says, “because we were speaking out against a lot of social and economic issues affecting Jamaicans at that time.”
In 2007, the forum advocated a 9 p.m. curfew for unaccompanied children in high-risk neighborhoods, in response to a spate of violence against children. Even more controversially, it called for condoms to be distributed in public schools to all teenagers over 16. Lynch was heavily criticized in the press, with many arguing that promoting abstinence was more appropriate than giving children contraceptives. Yet he stands by the forum’s campaign. “Whether or not we like it, they [children] are having sex,” Lynch says, “and though we are going to be…telling them to abstain is the best thing, not everybody will listen.”
Alongside his work with the Action Forum, he was also a member of the African, Caribbean and Pacific States Civil Society, which works to reduce poverty in developing countries. He led the group of Caribbean representatives and chaired the organization’s third forum in Brussels in 2009.
Lynch also established his own charity, the Lawman Lynch Foundation, to promote the importance of youth development. After a state of emergency in 2010 disrupted plans for a concert he had organized to support inner-city children, he wrote a charity single and persuaded several popular Jamaican musicians to appear on it. “It would not have been a ‘Heal the World,’ but at least we would have vocalized our thoughts about what was happening in Jamaica,” he says.
By his early 20s, Lynch was one of his country’s most prominent young activists, enjoying a high profile which led to his television appearance and subsequent decision to leave the country.
But life in New York has not been easy. “The first year and three months of being in the United States was like bitter medicine, with a dose of sugar every now and then,” Lynch says. He speaks slowly and deliberately; the memories are still raw. “I met some of the most cruel persons [and] I had to stay in some of the most unwanted spaces.” He moved 17 times in just 10 months. December 1, 2010, was the day he hit rock bottom, staying at a homeless shelter in Brooklyn. Lynch remembers the date well because precisely a year later, he moved into an apartment of his own.
He now works as program director of the Salvation Army Communication Center in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, where he continues his interest in youth issues by managing an afterschool program for 120 public school children. The program has been running for over 30 years, helping children with their homework, providing them with mentors and giving them room to run around and play.
Lynch is proud of the program. “There has to be a social space in which our children, our young people feel comfortable, feel appreciated, and I think that this space facilitates that,” he said.
Children begin arriving by mid-afternoon, and the kindergarten area outside Lynch’s office is filled with laughter and shouting. He greets everyone by name — from the staff and mentors to the boys playing basketball in the gym. Saniya, a bubbly 6-year-old girl with braids, rushes up to hug him, then runs off. “That’s a privilege that I have. I interact with all age groups here,” Lynch says.
Valerie Christopher, 23, is one of the program’s mentors. “He’s a very smart person,” she says. “I can respect him and his opinion because he knows a lot.” However, his sometimes-stern leadership style can cause disagreements. “We often bump heads because he’s not a person to back down and myself, I don’t back down,” she says, chuckling.
Christopher is also not afraid of poking fun at Lynch, cheerfully teasing him about his lilting Jamaican accent.
In fact ,no one seems to regard Lynch as a forbidding presence. Three boys knock on his office door, asking if “sonscool” — an optional Bible scripture class — is running. “I don’t want to go home,” one of them declares. “I want to play some music in church.” Lynch says he will be free to supervise them, and they are delighted. However, he quickly remembers he will be volunteering that evening, ferrying Salvation Army kettlers around Manhattan. “Bah!” the boy replies.
In a typical week, Lynch works 10-hour days at the Salvation Army Communication Center, volunteers as a driver for kettlers in Manhattan and Brooklyn, and attends the Army church on Sunday. He also helps out at a youth club and writes articles for Elite Buzz, his online magazine.
Music is a major passion — he plays coronet, piano, drums and sings — and he has just completed his first album. The first single was released December 12, and he hopes to record more albums. “I’m not doing this because I want to be a multi-millionaire,” Lynch says. “I’m going to do it because I want to do it and I’m going to do it before I get old.”
Lynch’s love of music is also apparent in his weekly show on E2 OnAir Radio, Brooklyn. On Sunday afternoons, he gives listeners in Canada, Great Britain, the Caribbean and the New York Tri-State area an eclectic mix of reggae, RnB, pop, hip-hop, house and gospel. He has an easy rapport with his audience and enjoys interacting with them via the station’s chat room. “It’s just a way of communicating, I guess, with people you can’t see,” he says. “You don’t know them, but there’s that relationship with persons who are willing to sit down for three hours listening to you. I think there is something powerful about that.”
Michelle Arthurton manages E2 Radio and recruited Lynch for the station. “He was involved in a lot of community work, and that’s what really attracted me to him,” she says. “He’s very versatile,” she continues, providing a counterpoint to E2’s predominantly reggae output. “He does have his own audience,” and “he normally pulls in a very good crowd.”
Sheron Hamilton-Pearson, 56, hosts the show immediately after Lynch’s. “When others would be daunted about assimilating to a new country, Lawman hit the ground running,” she says. “He’s fearless and fierce in his resolve to make a change.”
Lynch sees his myriad activities as his way of avoiding the 9-to-5 pigeonhole and living outside the box. “A lot of what I want to do, a basic salary won’t do it,” he says. He wants the freedom to be able to support charities without worrying about the cost. “I want to get to a point where I can give, give, give, give, give, til it doesn’t hurt, and it doesn’t even feel like giving any more.”
And when will he return to Jamaica? “Whatever happens, happens for a reason. I can’t try to wrap my head around everything,” he says. “I can just wait for my destiny. That’s all I can do.”