Lonnell Matthews Wants to Help Families

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Lonnell Matthews, seen here speaking at a Trayvon Martin rally, wants to be Davidson County’s juvenile court clerk. Photo submitted

Staff Reports

NASHVILLE, TN — Lonnell Matthews says Davidson County’s next juvenile court clerk should be more than a records keeper.

With 15 years in youth development for the YMCA, Matthews says, “I don’t see those as records. I see those as families.” He wants to be “a keeper of families.”

He coordinated Mayor Megan Berry’s Youth Violence Summit 2016 with co-chairs Judge Sheila Calloway and Criminal Court Clerk Howard Gentry, and is following-up on a youth diversion proposal.

Matthews was district executive director of youth outreach at the YMCA for middle- and high school students in Middle Tennessee.

Matthews is campaigning for juvenile court clerk in next summer’s election. While on metro’s council for eight years, he chaired: the black caucus (2009 and ’10); the Budget and Finance Committee (2013); and the education committee (2010). He’s now directing the mayor’s office of neighborhoods and community engagement. In 2007, Matthews, 38, was elected to metro’s District 1 seat. He was 27, the youngest African American elected in Nashville.

Juvenile court records “contain a lot of data and information that show the needs of families,” he says. Without divulging names, he’d use data to show agencies what families need.

“There’s not enough data being shared with agencies to make sure we’re dealing with what’s around young people,” he said. Juvenile records describe families, health care issues, childhood experiences, participation in school, out-of-school programs and faith institutions. “Sharing data will provide a better idea on how to address some [issues and help] eliminate some of the bad decisions.”

It could help stop the school to jail pipeline.

“It’s really the only way that community partners are going to effectively be able to work with the juvenile court,” he said. “It’s about creating partnerships and connections in the community. You need somebody who’s engaged in the community to do that.”

He advocates: a disproportionate minority contact initiative by agencies working to reduce the disproportionate level of minorities entering juvenile court; and preventive measures through intervention to keep youth from going to juvenile court.

“I want to see more opportunities created for Nashville’s youth,” Matthews says. “Juvenile court serves some of our most vulnerable youth and their families.”

He wants to work with Judge Calloway, “using evidence-based strategies” to improve Nashville’s quality of life. It can help “change the way our youth are portrayed” in the news. “We have the ability to provide the hope our youth need to thrive.”

Born in Nashville, Matthews grew up between 11th and 12th Avenues near Cecilia Avenue. At age 13, the family moved to Bordeaux. He’s a graduate of Martin Luther King High School and Tennessee State University. He studied accounting and business law. He lives in the Carrington Place subdivision. Married six years, he and Johari James Matthews have two children. One turned 1 in October. The other is 3.

Matthews is campaigning for the Democratic nomination in May. The general election is in August.

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