Lawrence, the fourth of six children, was born in Frankfurt, Germany on April 16, 1965 to African American parents. He was named after civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. and U.S. President John F. Kennedy. His father, John Lawrence, was serving in the U.S. military in Germany at the time of Martin's birth. After his parents divorced when he was eight years old, Lawrence rarely saw his father, who worked as a police officer. His mother, Chlora Lawrence (née Bailey, July 24, 1930 – August 28, 2008), began working several jobs to support her family. During his teen years Lawrence excelled at boxing. He lived in Maryland, and attended Thomas G. Pullen School of Creative and Performing Arts (Landover, Maryland), Fairmont Heights High School (Fairmont Heights, Maryland), Eleanor Roosevelt High School, and Friendly High School in Fort Washington, Maryland, becoming a Mid-Atlantic Golden Gloves boxing contender. He seriously considered a professional career until he suffered a broken eye that prompted him to reconsider.