Wayne Dawson

By Margaret Bernstein

He’s Cleveland’s dapper morning news anchor, known for being well-informed, well-liked and always well-dressed.

But when the cameras stop rolling, Fox 8’s Wayne Dawson becomes even more of a superstar.

That’s because he does so many things to serve and uplift his Cleveland hometown that it’s impossible to count them, from emceeing local events to raising money for scholarships to mentoring youths. He’s an ordained minister at Bethany Baptist Church in Cleveland and the co-founder of a scholarship foundation established in his mother’s memory.

His extraordinary resume, bulging with community service, makes Wayne Dawson the perfect choice for The Press Club of Cleveland’s annual Chuck Heaton Award.

Wayne is one of those rarer-than-rare broadcasting professionals who was born, raised and has worked his entire career in the Cleveland area.

His hometown loves him – and you could say that’s a proven fact. In October, Wayne and the other members of his Fox 8 News in the Morning crew – Stefani Schaefer, Kristi Capel and Kenny Crumpton – were voted Most Popular Morning News Team of 2014 by Cleveland Magazine readers.

Serving his community has become an integral part of his television personality. Wayne hosts Fox 8’s “Pay it Forward” segment in which he hands out $400 to people who have done a good deed for someone else, and he also plays a key role in the station’s Stuff the Bus school supply drive and Christmas toy collections.

Like many TV types, Wayne frequently donates his time to host fundraisers and special events for local nonprofits. But where he goes “above and beyond” is in his work with the Annie L. Dawson Foundation, a federally tax-exempt organization which he and his brother Will established in 2007.

Wayne explains it this way: “My brother [East Cleveland] Judge William Dawson and I established the foundation in the memory of our mother because she was a single parent who preached the importance of education. She always told us education is the key to success and if we studied hard and applied ourselves, we would achieve where she did not,” Wayne says.

“She poured everything she had into my brother and me, and she always stressed the importance of going to college. Although she lived to see my success at Fox 8, she died just before my brother entered law school.”

Their foundation is based on the biblical principle that "Too whom much is given, much is expected." Wayne says he and his brother have been blessed with successful careers “and it is our mission to give back by sharing the message and the inspiration our mother instilled in us.”

The brothers began by offering “empowerment seminars” to at-risk youth at various churches. They then began offering scholarships to needy students.

So far they’ve given out six $1,000 scholarships to students at Shaw High School (Wayne’s alma mater) and Richmond Heights High School. A recent success story is Shawneice Johnson, who is using her scholarship to attend a journalism program in Washington, D.C.

The scholarship funds come from bowling and skating parties that Wayne and Will host. All their scholarship recipients attend these functions. “It’s a good way to build a strong relationship with them,” Wayne explains.

After they count up the funds raised at their events, the brothers make a point of keeping only the dollars needed to keep their barebones foundation running.

“We give out most of the money we raise because the only reason we started the foundation is to help young people,” Wayne says. “Our focus is not the straight-A student or the high achiever, but students who have potential but need that extra push on the road to success.”

Wayne wakes up at 2 a.m. to get ready for the news show, and he goes to bed no later than 7 p.m. Despite having to get up in the wee hours for work, he somehow manages to wedge a host of community projects plus family time into his jam-packed days. “My community stuff is done during the early afternoon and on weekends,” he explains. He couldn’t do it, Wayne adds, without the help of wife Laverne and also brother Will and Will’s wife.

An 11-time Emmy winner, Wayne is a member of the NAACP, the National Association of Black Journalists and the Phi Beta Sigma fraternity. He was twice named one of the Jaycees Outstanding Young Men of America. The Professional Women's Business Association selected Wayne as Outstanding TV News Reporter and Delta Sigma Theta named him Man of the Year. He is also a member of the Broadcasters Hall of Fame.

A 1979 graduate of Kent State University with a bachelor of arts degree in journalism, Wayne was recently honored by his alma mater with the Distinguished Alumni Award. The National Association of Television Arts and Sciences presented him with its Silver Circle Award.

In his more than 35 years at Fox 8, Wayne has covered two presidential conventions, the second history-making space shot of John Glenn, Pope John Paul’s visit to Detroit, the first celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day in Atlanta, as well as countless Cleveland mayoral and governor’s races in Ohio.

Married to Laverne for 17 years, Wayne is the father of four children and grandfather of five.

A former Plain Dealer columnist, Margaret Bernstein is a previous recipient of the Chuck Heaton Award. She is director of advocacy and community initiatives at WKYC TV 3 in Cleveland.