Rawle Andrews, Jr., Esq. Regional Vice President, Maryland American Association of Retired Persons (AARP)
As an attorney and the Regional Vice President for AARP in Maryland, Rawle Andrews, Jr. has confronted many challenges. Often viewed by many as an organization offering discounts to senior citizens, AARP is much more than that. It provides an abundance of benefits that many people may not be aware of. Andrews is responsible for ensuring that it all comes together and runs smoothly. He oversees various programs for 850,000 members. “In some respects they are our constituents, but they also are our volunteers. They also are our partners in several of our collaborative efforts to try to make a difference for people 50 and older and their families,” stated Andrews. “I would split my job into thirds, if you will. One-third of my job is the general administration and management of the business and financial affairs of AARP’s business in the state of Maryland. The second phase or the second third of my job is to run and oversee our advocacy operations, which some people would call lobbying. And the third is really in the public education and community outreach phase of the work we do, so you
might call it external communications, on what AARP is, what it does, and how you can get involved.” Andrews shared with Exceptional People Magazine what he enjoys about his position and what he enjoys most about helping AARP members live healthy and productive lives. EPM: Why did you decide to become an attorney? Rawle: I believe that I always wanted to find a career in law, even though my father was a physician, his uncle and mentor was a physician and my younger brother also is a medical doctor. And I think my ability to help folks know their rights, have those rights enforced, was only going to be from a mouthpiece where legal training was available. That doesn’t mean a lot of people don’t watch Law and Order; they can figure out what lawyers do, and sometimes they do it pretty successfully. But ultimately the classical legal training, I think, does give me a chance to give voice to the voiceless, whether that’s a corporation, a government entity, or an individual. EPM: You received your JD with honors, and you also received the 2006 Pro Bono Lawyer of the Year award. How important is it for attorneys to do pro bono work?
Rawle: I believe that if you read 99 out of 100 law school essays over the last 25 to 30 years, almost every one of them would say, “Please admit me to your law school,” no matter where the law school is, “because I want to be able to give back to the community, and the only way I can do it is to be a lawyer.” That being said, people get in, the golden handcuffs come out and then, suddenly, they take a job on K Street or Wall Street, or wherever the street may be, and they find that it becomes difficult with family and other commitments to give back. But I think if that’s where you started, that your plans were that you would be committed to public service in that way, that you would know your obligations. So it becomes an obligation deferred, not an obligation you aren’t aware of. The other thing I would say is – but this is really, really important – I believe the reason why I was honored with that award is because there is a difference between pro bono and community service. And I’ll give you an example. If I’m a lawyer trained in lawyer skills, the best way I can give back is to take my professional expertise and help somebody who has modest means and make their life a little better. That doesn’t mean I couldn’t volunteer for Habitat for Humanity and go build somebody’s back yard playground, or
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plant trees, or clean up the park or something like that. That certainly is valuable service and needed service in the community, but where do people really need help? The reality of it is, when Martin Luther King was in jail in Birmingham, he needed a lawyer to get him out, not a gardener, not a doctor, or pharmacist. So I think when professionals use their professional tools for the public good, that’s pro bono in my book. EPM: You also received a community service award for the DC Coalition for Housing Justice. Rawle: I did, and a lot of that was related to helping people who either were in predatory loans or who were in foreclosure rescue scams, so they could keep their family housing. A lot of my pro bono has been in the affordable housing arena, because I believe if the house is not right, everything else falls apart. The home has to be the castle. So it’s been easy for me to use my professional training to help people in those scenarios, as well as teaching about housing issues at Howard University. EPM: What have you found to be most rewarding about being an attorney?
Rawle: I think every day when I wake up, I know I have a real opportunity to help someone. And that’s when I pick up the phone, write a letter, send an e-mail, or have a meeting. Because they come to you with a problem and they know there has been wrongdoing – sometimes they don’t legally know how it happened or why it happened. But they feel in their DNA that they’ve been wronged, and they need a road map – a Mapquest, if you will – to try to find the solution to it. Sometimes the fact that they’ve been wronged morally, in our system of laws doesn’t mean that there’s a legal remedy for that. But if I can help someone say, “Well, you know what, I know you feel badly about it, but they weren’t required to tell you X, Y, or Z,” I hope I’m saving you some time. People don’t always see the value in me giving my hour or two hours to explain that to them. But I am saving them from a roadblock, because if you go to court, you’re going to waste money filing a lawsuit and it’s going to be dismissed – but there is a value in doing that. But I do feel that every day I get up, I am in an honorable profession – although sometimes lawyers don’t behave honorably. I have an opportunity to make a difference every day --
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whether I take that opportunity or not, that’s on me. EPM: You’ve been with the Maryland state AARP office for quite a while. In your current position, what is your main role as Regional Vice President? Rawle: I think I would split my job in thirds, if you will. One-third of my job is the general administration and management of the business and financial affairs of AARP’s business in the state of Maryland. The second phase or the second third of my job is to run and oversee our advocacy operations, which some people would call lobbying. And the third is the public education and community outreach phase of the work we do, so it can be called external communications -- what AARP is, what it does and how you can become involved and so forth. I wish I could tell you, that every time I come here, I have a list and the first three things on my list are management, the second three things are advocacy, and so forth. Every time I put a list of ten together, I’m lucky if I get three of them done, no matter what basket it happens to be in on any particular day. In Maryland, we have 850,000 members, so in some respects they are our constituents but they are also our volunteers.
They are our partners in several collaborative efforts to make a difference for people 50 and older and their families. EPM: What attracted you to AARP? Rawle: Well, it’s funny -- whether I was attracted to AARP or AARP found me I really don’t know the answer to that question, but it all kind of dovetails around the pro bono award that you spoke about earlier. When predatory lending first came to my attention, a gentleman came to my office to tell me that he was in an upside-down loan, and none of the promises the bank made were kept. There was no way he could ever pay his mortgage. This was about the summer of 2004. Nobody was really talking a lot about predatory lending then and I didn’t know a lot about it, because in my former professional life, I had worked with banks. I did a lot of business banking as a deal-breaker, but I wasn’t really familiar with predatory lending. So I said, “Well, as I’m doing my due diligence, I don’t know that you really have a case. You signed a loan, you took the money, and you’re in your house, but let me see if I can do some research.” And so I was looking for courses where I could do continuing education to learn about predatory lending and what the anatomy of those cases was and lo and behold,
AARP was offering a class. And the only requirement, if you came to the class, was that you had to agree to handle at least two bro bono cases. I ended up handling about 15 cases and probably consulting on about another 20, inside and outside of the District of Columbia. I advised people in Hawaii, in Minnesota. I actually had a trial in Dallas. What made me proud, with divine intervention and knocking on wood, is between 2004 and 2006, nobody we worked with lost their home. There were some days that were dark. The reality of it is that we were able to come up with the strength and the creative solutions – sometimes community support. Sometimes people don't realize the impact that a voluntary appearance can have upon a judge. And I’d say, “You need to tell everybody in your friend and family network that this is serious.” I know a lot of times we don’t like to talk about troubles we’re having, but if the judge sees that the community cares about these issues and that everybody’s potentially at risk, he or she may give you favor that day – and it worked. Ultimately, by the time I did that and the award came, Legal Counsel for the Elderly under AARP was seeking a managing attorney. EPM: How does it feel to know that you have approximately 850,000
lives that you are responsible for as the Regional Vice President? Rawle: When I first heard that I had 850,000 constituents and members, it didn’t sound that daunting. It was just a number on a page. AARP has almost 40 million members, so the reality of it is at some level everybody’s responsible, good or bad, for every one of those 40 million. So it didn’t seem when I was talking about the promotion, the opportunity, that it was that daunting. But in reality, constituent casework is constituent casework, no matter what. So in a membership-type organization, you can get calls from any and everybody, including people who are elected officials but also who happen to be dues-paying members of AARP. They ask, “Why are you doing this? Why haven’t you done that?” And they want an answer. If you don’t have an immediate answer, they don't want to wait 20 years for green bananas to grow yellow to get that answer. So in reality, it is manageable, but I can tell you that it is an awesome privilege and responsibility to know that that many people are relying on you. EPM: Well, you’re performing a great service, so it’s worth it, I would imagine. What are some specific ser-
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vices and products offered by AARP which make the organization unique? Rawle: Oh, I think that the two singular priorities of AARP which people rely on regardless of age, if they’re a wage-earner, are Social Security and Medicare. And people who pay into FICA expect that when the time comes for them to receive the paid-in benefit, they’re going to get their money back at a reasonable rate of return. They don't expect Congress or anyone else to tamper with their benefits. That is where we are; that is where we’re going to stand. From a standpoint of protecting Medicare, for the most part the recipients are 65 and older. There are some exceptions such as people with disabilities -- and you have to prove them. For a lot of people the only income they have – one in five people – is Social Security. The only medical insurance they have is through Medicare. And I think people rely on us to do that. But beyond that, AARP is much more because by having 40 million members what we’re able to do is leverage that network to provide goods and services at reasonable rates. EPM: What are some areas where you believe AARP can possibly improve?
Rawle: We are making great strides to accommodate a growing older population in America. But the reality is while we have large numbers of African-American members – over two million – we don’t believe we’ve done our best to demonstrate the benefits AARP can offer to them. In many instances what we’re finding is that African-Americans are aware of AARP but they don’t know why it’s relevant to them. Hispanics and Latinos is another area of multiculturalism where we could be doing better. While we have well over a million members in HispanicLatino populations, what we find is that many times they are not aware of AARP. If they don’t speak English as a first language, there is nothing similar to AARP in other countries, except the government. They're not going to voluntarily give money and turn their information over to this entity, without knowing what will be done with that information. EPM: With your attorney background, do you help individual members of AARP, or do you represent the organization? Rawle: In the Legal Counsel for the Elderly position, I advised the department and individuals. In my current position we don’t actively practice law on behalf of individuals, but we
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put them in touch with folks, including our legal services network at AARP, who can actually provide that information. EPM: Your job requires that you travel a lot. How do you balance that with your personal life and family life? Rawle: I have a very understanding family, and I try like the dickens to make sure that when I’m at work, I’m at work, but when I’m at home, I’m at home. So I don’t bring my laptop home – I’m not saying I never get on a PDA or a Blackberry from time to time – but if I’m at home, I’m at home. In terms of travel, being in close proximity to headquarters, a lot of times when the meetings are in the Washington area, I stay at home in lieu of staying at a hotel – I think that saves AARP money, but it gives me more time at home. EPM: What would you say to people who think that they don’t need AARP? Rawle: Well, usually, at first blush, what I say is that you cannot and will not hasten death by opening an AARP birthday card or joining AARP. But the other thing I would say is life, like any game, doesn’t end until the second half is over. And the reality is everything we do and everything we
see tells us if you’re not prepared, you’re already struggling with matters such as older parents who are facing health issues and that can place a drain on you, your income and your time. You’re already dealing with younger kids who are not being taught how handle aging, so you’re going to be a burden to them when you become your parents’ age. When we have a family reunion, we want to make sure one of the programs we talk about is nutrition and wellness. When we have a family reunion or a patriarch or matriarch birthday, we want to talk about wellness and family planning, and those types of things. But on a more basic level we fight utility companies to keep the rates reasonable and prevent shut-offs from being handled in an unfair or unreasonable manner. People don’t know we’re doing that. EPM: What kind of footprint or legacy would you like to leave with respect to your position as Regional Vice President for AARP?
how to age. And the reason why I say that is because everything that brought us to this phone call, somebody taught us how to do it or we watched somebody do it. Would you agree with that? When it comes to aging, all we do is have birthdays, whether we choose to celebrate them or not. And there are consequences of not learning how to age properly. So what I want to do is help people plan for aging. I want to help people know how to plan for disability. I want people to be comfortable with having a plan for the hereafter, so that when they leave their loved ones, there will be no riot at the repast. I’ve been to one riot at the repast – I’ve been to one too many. And so that’s what I’m hoping for, is that having been here and shared some of my experiences and expertise, I've been able to help. I want people to learn how to age, so they can live the way they want to live until it’s time for them to go home to glory.
Rawle: I am truly committed to our mission and vision of helping people live better in the second half of life. I would hope because I was here, having been on the legal side of some issues that complicate the second half of life, that I would be in the vanguard of having helped people learn May-June 2011 | Exceptional People Magazine | 63