This episode's guest on #MWL is Lonnell Matthews. We talk about the power of relationships, the evolution of justice, and entrepreneurial governance.

He and I also discuss his journey into politics and how that shapes his leadership style and sense of obligation to help those who need it most.

Where to watch live:

Lonelle Matthews - Guest Socials
Get The Full Episode Transcription


happy Juneteenth happy Friday

welcome to another episode of Marcus

Whitney live really excited about

today's episode I got my brother a dude

who I'm just in awe of all that he gets

done I had to call him like like last

week or two weeks ago just like man you

okay did you do a lot of stuff man you

doing a lot and this it's a heavy time

and and but this dude this cat has broad

shoulders man he is uh he has real

purpose in his life and those of us in

Nashville are so lucky to have him

talking about my brother Lonnell

Matthews… Lonnell what's up man 




good Marcus happy Juneteenth thanks for having me on 



hey Thank You

Man thank you for being here this has

been something we've been working on for

a minute we've been trying to get the

dates right you don't I mean but I felt

like this was the perfect date to have

you on you know what I'm saying this 




actually glad to be off for Juneteenth and

be able to help celebrate that holiday

and what that means to black people in

this country in addition to what we're

going to discuss on podcast so


absolutely and really quickly we talked

about a couple things we are going to

talk about but briefly I do want to

thank you for the work that you do you

and ashford leading up the my brother's

keeper chapter here and in Nashville can

you just take maybe you know two minutes

talk about the work of my brother's

keeper as well as the event that you had

earlier today because I think it's a

it's a great initiative and something

people need to know about 



yeah so for

those who don't know my brother's keeper

is an initiative that was started by

President Obama in 2014 it was started

as a response to the killing of Trayvon

Martin and it was it was a challenge to

cities across the nation to build better

infrastructure for achievement for boys

and young men of color and so Nashville

is one of 250 cities that has accepted

that challenge from the former president

and we are working to build that

infrastructure here locally based on

three milestone

wanna make sure that every boy young men

of color are reading at grade level by

third grade we want to make sure that

they're graduating high school ready for

college and career and we want to make

sure that if they happen to stray off on

the wrong path that they're our second

chance opportunities available to them

to put them back on the right path and

so we are working with various community

partners we're building an alliance of

nonprofits for-profits government

agencies all to build that

infrastructure to help support closing

that achievement gap for boys and young

men of color and this morning we happen

to have a virtual Juneteenth

event Carl fatherhood Friday and we

usually do this in schools it's a live

reading circle event that we do in

schools brother Michael Pratt who is our

sister principal East High School Little

Sis branch ow he's been cultivating it

and he was uh he was gracious enough to

partner with us to host it virtually

today this morning on june teeth and

went off very well we read the book

collectively read the book

let the children march and was able to

have breakout discussions about the book

and come back together do some

affirmations and really celebrate unity

kick it off Father's Day weekend as well

and be able to tie it all in together



man that's amazing that's amazing so

let's let's jump into you know

everything that that you're doing around

relationships and your podcast you're

all I need

it's it's it's a great podcast you know

I'm saying we've we've been on this

journey of trying to figure out how to

do podcast together here for the last

couple of months so just talk about you

know what what you and your wife are

doing on your podcast journey 



sure so

it's a labor of love you're all I need

is one of my first podcast ventures I'm

jumping out and really we do our

official lunch next week because our

anniver is all next Tuesday on the 23rd

oh yes 


happy Anniversary in advance man



Wow thank you for that we did a soft

launch a month ago and and the podcast

me and my wife johar we co-host together

and it's really about happy to promote

healthy relationships and that could be


but marriages romantic relationships of


it could be relationships between

friends and and relationships with other

family members your brother your sister

your parents we really want to address

relationship from a cultural aspect and

be able to to give that diverse

perspective of how different people view

relationships how they value

relationships and how they could build

on relationships to help impact other

areas of their life in a positive way so

we we do no official launch we actually

have half of the first season recorded

so we're ready to hit the ground running



oh I know hold on just cut out you just

cut out there you are do okay okay I'll

be back okay let's go let's go 




about that so we should have the rest of

season one a record is soon and ready to

go but we are going to be interviewing

some great couples we're interviewing

people that help provide resources and

support for couples it could be people

that would help help cultivate a great

date night for a couple okay okay some

of our friends to talk about the dynamic

of single people being in relationship

with people that are in a relationship

and how they may influence one another

and we don't talk about you know we

don't talk about the good we're all

still talking about some of the tough

issues we're gonna talk about finances

we're going to talk about those things

that are sort of taboo to talk about in

relationships so really excited about

about that my wife is much better a much

better voice it's on glad that she's

co-hosted but I'm really excited to get

on the production side and learn about

podcasting you've been a great help and

helping me to learn more about just the

production side and making sure that is

gonna come across and our message is

gonna be communicated very well

to me 



yeah man that's that's that's

what's up so so let's let's now shift

into you know what what I came to know

you for the first time I met you I

didn't meet you the first time I met you

I saw you on the cover of the Nashville

Scene you know for that for that story

about the next next mayor right and um

you know I was just like man who is this

guy you know what I mean like this it

was just such a strong cover story it

was so exciting and from that point man

I felt like I've seen you maybe you know

every single week you don't have saying

you've just been in the public eye you

know making moves and so to talk a

little bit about your your journey into

into government because you have a

unique journey that has now touched it

the three different branches 



so yeah

definitely a unique journey but first

about that cover so that cover I call it

the gift and the curse that cover came

out I was running for council at large

it was 2015 it was my third political

race that I was involved in and I

happened to lose that race and so it was

a growing opportunity for me I got to

learn some things but it was a humbling

moment for me to to have you know people

talking about you you're on this

trajectory to possibly be mayor of a

major city in America one day what was

pretty exciting at the time but I didn't

really ask for the title of that article

to be titled the way it was and yeah was

it prized as everyone else when I saw it

the writer of the article seemed to have

held I think very highly up here and he

told me was coming out but he kept the

title secret...

can you hear me 



I got you again okay so

so so pick back pick back up when you

were talking about when you're talking

about they he kept the title secret from




yeah so Steven hell he kept the

title secret from me until the article

was released so I was just as surprised

as everyone else to see what the title

was but it was a very humbling article

and it was a humbling experience going

through that race and losing that race

in 2015 for councilor at large for me to

really look back on what what my career

was a government up until then but also

looking forward like well what was my

purpose to continue down this road and

continue on this journey and yeah that

article talked a lot about my backstory

which a lot of people didn't know until

that article came out and so... you're

freezing on me a little bit your screen

just let me know if you 



keep keep keep

going keep going okay okay so 



so a lot

of people didn't know my background

before that article came and so it

really gave me this relief to be

authentically myself young but I got

into government in 2007 I was 26 years

old when I jumped into my first race and

I ran for Metro Council in Nashville

because at that time my brother was shot

and killed a year before and I had gone

through this year actually about a year

of depression before making the decision

that I was going to run for Council and

for me it was really about finding my

own personal purpose and my contribution

to the community but it was also about

helping other families not experience

the experience that my family paints and

so I wanted to find a way to address

some of the issues that led up to the

incident that my brother found himself

in and so



can you hear me yeah just it's just one

of them days man with the internet yeah

this is one of them days with the

internet we're gonna push through though

keep keep going yeah yeah 



I jumped

 into the race in 2007, didn't think I had

 a chance of winning, the incumbent was


 there were five of us who ended up putting a

 good team together and won that race. And

 hit the ground running as soon as the

 community put that faith and confidence

 in my ability to represent and lead

 them, and won recollection to that

 District 1 council seat in 2015... no, it

 was 2011 was when I won reelection to

 that District 1 council seat. And then

 2015, like I told you, was unsuccessful

 in running for council at large, but got

 the opportunity to transition from a

 metro council legislative seat to

 working in the mayor's office under

 Mayor Megan Barry as her Director of

 Neighborhoods and Community Engagement.

 And in that role, I got to... I was her

 criminal justice policy advisor -that was

 one of my primary responsibilities- but

 also got to work on a variety of issues

 because a lot of issues from economics,

 to health, to Public Works issues, I

 mean everything impacted neighborhoods.

 And so I was able to dibble and dabble

 in a lot of the resolutions to several

 different issues that we were facing at

 the time in Nashville. And it gave me a

 broad perspective of the needs of this

 community and this city. But it also gave

 me the ability -and I do thank Megan

 Barry for this- she really gave me and

 empowered me to be a decision maker

 within her office and to really push the

 limit and to to be innovative in my

 thought. And so that really empowered me

 to think about government different, to

 think about what was possible, to think

 about how we

 really change our community in a very

 substantial, significant way. And so after

 two and a half years of working in the

 mayor's office, I decided -I heard that

 the juvenile court clerk at the time

 David Smith was going to retire- had a

 conversation with the juvenile court judge

 Sheila Calloway, one of my favorite judges...



She's amazing



and decided that I was going to throw my

 name back in the hat for

 another elected office. And I ran for

 juvenile court clerk in 2018 -and I

 didn't realize this until after I had

 gotten elected- but I won the race in

 2018, and I quickly realized that I was

 one of few people in Nashville that had

 had significant leadership roles in all

 three branches of government. Legislative,

 executive, and now judicial... and so it

 really provides me with a unique

 experience first of all, but also just a

 unique opportunity to man a very

 unusual perspective on how we draft

 policy, how we adopt policy, and how we

 bring community in thinking of every

 level of government and how they may

 affect those decisions that we make. And

 so, I'm thankful for the opportunity

 thankful for the the confidence that the

 people of Nashville put in me to lead and

 represent them in this community.



now now

all of that has put you in a very

interesting position when you when you

combine that you've been in each branch

here in Nashville right you you've had

this background this personal experience

with with the the murder of your brother

and and now you're also sort of a

visible leader in the community when a

moment in time like the one that we're

in right now happens you know how has

this hit you you know like you you have

a job to do but then you also have a job

to do right you know people are looking

to you to use your voice and and to to

represent and to almost like model for

us like

what what 


What should we be, you know,

 saying in a moment like this? How have

 you felt that weight?



So thank you for

 the question, I liked how you framed the

 question. And I know we're both music

 heads, and I just happen to -you know it's

 Friday, so new new music is released and

 pushed out- and I happen to read a couple

 articles about J. Cole and Noname

 Who are two hip hop artists and how they're in this spat over J.

 Cole and other top-selling artists not

 using their voices effectively. And so

 when you framed it like that, that's one

 of the first things I thought about was

 “have I been responsible in the way

 that I've used my voice?” But I can't say

 that, no there's a lot of pressure,

 there's a lot of weight on my shoulders

 in moments like these... I do feel a

 responsibility to help be a voice for

 those that don't have platforms like

 mine, that don't have the audience or

 ears of people that may be

 decision-makers, that can cause the type

 of change that we really want to see in

 communities. And so I've been very

 intentional and deliberate about when I

 have used my voice to represent what

 I'm hearing from other people. And I've

 been in a lot of conversations, and so I

 make sure that I'm able to to represent

 their interests, their perspectives on

 my platform, but I'm also cognizant that

 the person receiving the message... the

 message has to be where they are

 receptive. It can't be too intimidating,

 it can't be too aggressive

 to where they get on the defensive. If we

 really want to see change, the message

 has to be clear, it has to be concise, and

 it has to really be focused on the

 actions that we want people to take in

 this moment. So I've been trying to be

 deliberate about... I've tried to provide

 some historical context for people and

 for conversations I’ve had

 where people have told me -pretty

 explicitly- that, “hey I'm ignorant to a

 lot of that are being discussed right


 can you help educate me? Can you help me

 comprehend?” Yeah I want to provide that

 that comprehension. I want to provide

 that historical context. I want to give

 them the perspective of why we have the

 frustration and some of the anger

 that they're seeing in media and on

 social media and in different places. I want

 them to fully understand that. I

 also want them to understand there is an

 agenda -there is a resolution and a

 pathway- for us to to address these

 issues that we've had in the past.

 You know, here is that pathway, here are the

 things that we need to be thinking about

 doing. And even in doing that, I always

 get the question, “right okay so how can I

 help? I don't really see that as a… as

 something for me to do.” And I think

 that's been the biggest challenge is

 reminding people in different sectors,

 different industries, different positions

 that they all have a part to play in

 this. And I think you've been able to do

 that recently with your letter to

 the healthcare industry in Nashville. And

 after you did that, I started to

 think about, “okay have I spoken to people

 in the area where I have worked in a

 very significant way?” And I actually

 started working on an op-ed to talk

 about you know campaign financing and

 how it's very difficult for minority

 candidates to even raise money to run

 a viable campaign to try to represent

 the people from their community and

 their interests. And if we really want to have this

 diversity in leadership -especially for

 elected offices- we have to think about

 “are we putting our dollars and

 resources where they're most needed to

 get that result?”



man you just you just

said a lot there and and thank you for

highlighting the letter that I wrote to

the healthcare industry you know I had

no idea that was gonna you know have the

impact that is that has had

but it just it just shows man this is a

moment where people are looking for

they're looking for people to use their

voice and not in any way that that isn't

relevant to their experience or to the

power that they have right you know what

I mean like I can't speak to criminal

justice right I know I've no you know

other than being a citizen I mean I

could speak to it as any other citizen

might be able to speak to it but I don't

have experience or power in that in that

world but you know I happen to know to

health care world and so for you you

know you you are very very established

in the political world and you know I

just know that that you've you've

navigated this well so far you know

especially you in Ashford speaking on

the local news on behalf of my brother's

keeper you know that was that was

powerful man that was a powerful use of

your words and your voice so I just I

did want to highlight that I did want to

highlight that 



thank you and I can tell

you if I'm being honest and blunt like

I've been frustrated I've been angry

myself and I've had to channel that in a

positive way because not only am I

thinking about myself and the people I'm

communicating - but I'm also thinking

about how role modelling my emotions and

my action is for macho's and they're

watching very closely or anything

they're a very young impressive age 2 3

and 5 and so I want them to to be able

to look at how I'm responding how I'm

trying to lead and and have that example

that it can be done in an effective

positive way without letting your

emotions guide you or be front and

center they could they could be in the

back kind of pushing you and driving you

but don't let your emotions get the best

of you when you are trying to lead and

remain focused on what the end goal is



absolutely so you and I both graduated

from Harvard Business School's young

American Leadership Program and a big

part of that is about the role the

important role that cities are gonna

play in the future of this country they

bring together cohorts of leaders in

cities young leaders in cities 10

different cities I think I think it is

every year they bring a new

and one of the big aspects of it is the

the opportunity to bring

entrepreneurship into government and I

know that you know from your time

serving in mayor Barry’s administration

and and then I think probably doubled

down from your experience up at up at

Harvard to spend time with Mitch and

everybody that this has been something

you've really taken to heart can you

talk a little bit about you know what

you what you learned through through

your cohort experience a young American

leaders program and then the areas where

you've tried to implement it or where

you see this opportunity to implement

entrepreneurship in government 



so even

before I was working in the mayor's

office and the executive branch when I

was first elected to council I was I was

very young and I went into that that

role thinking about how can I really

innovate I didn't know about

entrepreneurial governance or that as a

concept or construct at that time but

but I was fresh I was I was green and I

wasn't really I wasn't really

traditional in the sense of how I wanted

to be seen as a public servant as a

political elected official and so I went

into it eyes wide open like you know I'm

here to create change I'm here to really

push the envelope I'm here to break

apart that that good old boys club and

the way things have always been done and

so my first couple years yes I was

learning and I had this huge learning

curve but in the midst of that I was

challenging at the same time and it

wasn't until I got in in the mayor's

office and started working in the

mayor's office under Meghan Barry that I

they empowered to do that in a very when

you have the leader of the city telling

you verbatim hey I want you to to feel

free to to speak on my behalf

in your position Wow and that was I have

to really thank her for for empowering

me like that and she did it very direct

it was just me and her and her

and she told me she said look I'm not

concerned with the decisions you will

make you work together and for people

that don't know me and make him very

stern on council for eight years

together so we knew each other very well

we uh we knew each other's politics each

other beliefs morals values and so when

she told me she trusted my ability to

represent her and make decisions on her


that that really gave me the opportunity

to engage community on a different level

and and to be able to gauge them in an

authentic way to say hey what what is

your concern what's your name what's

your issue and let's really think

creatively about how we could address

that issue and so and when I went to get

her Mitch Weiss was talking about this

from mr. Weiss mombasa was talking about

entrepreneurial governess

he kind of affirmed in him the day they

gave me gave me something to call it

yeah yeah it was just my personal

approach to how I wanted to leave but

but he actually validated it and gave it

this nice brand and and so I brought

that back from that experience I was

doing a lot of work in the criminal

justice area we were talking about

violence interrupters and so started to

explore that and a local organization

Gideon's army Rashida for Tudor who

leads that organization I met with her

on numerous occasions and introduced her

to the concept and helped her put

together a local plan for bringing that

to Nashville and now they're pushing it

and the conversation of what police

reform or reimagine and Public Safety

could look like that was one instance I

looked at different technologies I

really looked at how government

especially here in Nashville were behind

the 8-ball in applying technology and

using technologies very effectively and

one thing that we were talking about was

a technology called ShotSpotter at the

time and we were talking about it in

terms of

to reduce gun violence and I so using

sound this silent technology that could

pinpoint where when gunshots happen

exactly where they ought to triangulate

it and report it to police without the

community having to do it because so

many oppressed communities or

marginalized communities don't have this

culture to not call the police my

question is as I go report it

unresponded to and and end up becoming

worse situations because we don't have

the awareness that these things have

happened so those type of things being

able to bring those type of technology

support resources or ideas to government

has really benefited me and really

defined the way that I want to lead

going forward and I'm even trying to do

that in the courts now or to a judge

count away thinking about restorative

justice and really trying to change it

from a foundational level of we're not

going to have the philosophy of crime

and punishment you do a crime you go to

court you get this time and and we'll be

done with it we hope that you get

rehabilitated we're going to approach it

with a different philosophy of what harm

cost the crime to happen in the first

place yes arm was done by the crime and

how can we restore all of that harm that

was done as a community so having

this up renewal mind and government I

think has given me a unique position

within a community and relationship with

community and those that I'm able to

work with in the community because I'm

open minded to all ideas all innovations

all creativity and I'm willing to figure

out a way to make it work it policy

stands in the way let's change the

policy yeah and I know processes to be

able to walk people through how we make

that happen resources stand in the way

let's figure out a funding source to

make sure that we could be put the

resources into this creative idea yeah

and push so and make it Mary had a

unique process called public invest

planets where she actually encouraged

departments to think innovatively about

some of the issues that they were trying

to address within the community and so

we have to continue that sort of thought

of collaboration of government not

trying to solve these issues by

themselves because they're not just a

government from there they're citywide

they're community problems and if we

promote more collaboration between

sectors of profit and nonprofit

government then we'll see better results



And just a final point to bring it home

 to what we're experiencing right now... it

 seems like that's gonna be a requirement

 right. Like when I'm looking at the

 People's Budget Campaign that's

 happening here in Nashville -and I don't

 think it's limited to Nashville- I think

 there are cities all over the country

 right now that are taking a very close

 look at the municipal budget, and you

 know are asking for, at a minimum reform

 in many cases to “defund

 the police.” When you start looking at

 where resources are going and you're

 saying, you know, “we want to move

 resources from policing two things that

 could maybe you know improve the quality

 of life or fix some of these issues at

 the root of them…” that's gonna require

 entrepreneurship because that is change.

 You can't just take money from here put

 it over there and expect magic to happen.

 You're gonna have to build new systems

 right, and you're right. These are gonna

 have to be built in collaboration with

 the community. This is not gonna be

 something that can just be an easy

 shift of dollars. It's not just a

 budgetary thing, there's there's new

 systems that have to be imagined.




 and honestly Marcus, the technology is

 out there. You know other cities are

 doing community

 participatory budgeting very well and

 have, you know, apps that that community

 members could go into, and they have the

 budget, and they can move money around

 and submit it to the government to

 review in a collective format. And

 we've actually tried that to some degree

 here with some of the technology,

 tested it out, introduced it, but we haven't

 really gone deep enough in our budgeting

 process. Like we have to be able to

 disrupt the

 process that we put in place of how we

 approve a budget how we propose, approve,

 give the community time to dissect. We

 have to be really open minded… we

 do have to have the will of those

 there are a leadership, you have to make

 sure that they have this openness to

 this entrepreneurial approach to to




Yeah and you have to believe

 that there's

 something wrong at the systems level,

 right. You know, I think what you just

 said about the budget process... I

 consider myself to be a pretty smart guy.

 I sit on a bunch of boards, I look at

 budgets all the time, okay. I don't get

 enough of a heads up on the Nashville

 budget -and it's so complicated- that I

 almost like throw up my hands. Honestly

 you know...



Yes, yeah and that was

 a frustration when I was on the council...

 the council who has

 final say-so over our budget, they only

 get a month to sit with the budget

 before they have to approve it. And you

 know, we really have to be more

 thoughtful I've had conversations with

 council numbers recently about the the

 idea of divesting, and policing, and

 reallocated funding, and all of those

 conversations we've concluded that is

 going to take longer than just this

 moment to figure out what that really

 looks like and to get very

 widespread buy-in to that concept. And so

 I told them, “hey use this opportunity to not

 only think about police reform and what

 you want to accomplish there, but also

 think about disrupting the budget

 process” because that needs to be the

 larger conversation of, you know, the

 community needs to be more involved with

 this budget. The council needs to have

 more time with it, and this process is

 too convoluted

 to continue in the way that we have here.



completely agree so look man we fought

through some tech issues but thank you

for hanging in there with me I'm gonna

let you get back to enjoying Juneteenth

with your family and with the community

any final words you just want to leave

yeah I want to just thank you for the

opportunity first of all thank you for


chance to come on the podcast I love

what you're doing I know your book is

coming out yes looking forward to that

is copy autograph signed copy you will

get it autographed side copy reading

that but I just want to encourage the

community to stay focused stay involved

stay aware of what's happening in our

communities locally but also what's

happening nationwide and to at the end

of the day was foundational to

everything that's going on are the

relationships that we have and so make

sure that your cultivate make sure that

you're protecting those relationships

make sure that you're holding them and

handling them with care whether that be

your family or the people in your

household your friends that you talk to

and and use for support and offer

support to or it could be those work in

relationships all of those relationships

are poured and and where we spend our

time and energy and try to influence

within those circles ultimately will

define I'm the type of community and

society we want to be my knellman you're

an inspiration man thank you so much

everybody out there you can follow on

now at spread love with LM inspired with

lawn now on Facebook and on Instagram

and Llano Matthews calm the podcasts

you're all I need

check it out right now everywhere that

you get your podcasts you got to check

it out it's a fantastic listen partially

because it's LA now but his beautiful

wife Johari is really the star of the

show I think we all know that and yeah

as long I'll said I got a book coming

out create Norka straight June 30th 2020

this year it's like less than two weeks

from now I'm so excited to get it out

there in the world you're listening to

this show you need to be subscribed to

the podcast Marcus Woody's audio

universe on Apple Spotify Google I Heart

Radio SoundCloud on and on follow me

everywhere online at Marcus Whitney go

to Marcus mini-com to sign up for the

newsletter and that is it I'm out of

here I'm looking forward to spending the

rest of the day with my family and just

grateful for this new awakening that

we're having in America about the

importance of acknowledging the

experience of black people

especially the descendants of the 12

plus million Africans who were stolen

and brought here to do economic labor

and and were deprived of self-ownership

of dignity of their culture and it is a

big big debt that we have to resolve in

this country but I believe that we can

do it I see so much hope especially from

young people and so everybody just

continue to lean into your community

lean into the uncomfortable feelings

lean into educating yourself you know

this is not about feeling a sense of

shame this is about feeling a sense of

pride for your willingness to make the

world a better place so with that we're

gonna build a new normal you all have a

great weekend and I will see you again

next time peace

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