Strategic Priorities

Upward Mobility

Financial literacy, accessible capital, and employment opportunities are needed to address America’s massive wealth gap. Additionally, policies such as redlining have often deprived minority communities from outside investments, which has resulted in decades of neighborhood decline and economic hardship. As neighborhoods deteriorate economically, generational wealth and skills are lost, homeownership decreases, and residents become vulnerable to displacement by gentrification. To empower individuals, families, and communities to achieve upward mobility, the Foundation values programs which emphasize financial stewardship training, workforce development, and mentorship.


Education plays a critical role in life outcomes and flourishing communities. Early childhood development, good schools, food security, and supportive families are among the myriad needs for children to thrive. However, many children in the Knoxville area suffer from educational inequality and lack adequate support systems. The Foundation aims to increase literacy rates, access to nutritious food, and pathways to colleges and careers by supporting afterschool programs, mentorship, and early childhood development.

Criminal Justice

In its current state, America’s criminal justice system disproportionately affects marginalized communities. Black inmates account for 33% of the 6.4 million U.S. citizens currently imprisoned, even though African Americans only constitute 15% of the total U.S. population (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2020). In addition to the immediate effects of incarceration on individuals and their families, felony disenfranchisement frequently leads to a cycle of exclusion and recidivism. Historic and current incidences of police brutality have left deep wounds and eroded trust towards law enforcement in many minority communities. The Foundation seeks to support organizations working to improve community relationships with law enforcement and creating pathways for successful reentry for ex-offenders.

Human Trafficking and Domestic Violence

Slavery has persisted into the modern era in the forms of labor and sex trafficking. According to the TBI, human trafficking is the second-fastest growing criminal industry in Tennessee behind drug trafficking. Women and children are particularly vulnerable to trafficking and abuse, as they constitute over 80% of all victims (ILO, 2016). The Lawson Family Foundation is committed to fighting trafficking and abuse in East Tennessee through initiatives involving prosecution of traffickers, protection of victims, and prevention of future crimes.