Engaged citizens, not passive inhabitants

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John Sanders and Beverly Watts Davis represent San Antonio Fighting Back and receive Coalition of the Year Award.  Courtesy

John Sanders and Beverly Watts Davis represent San Antonio Fighting Back and receive Coalition of the Year Award. Courtesy

As a 6-year-old, Watts saw leadership in her young classmates.

By Paula Christine Schuler


The list of achievements by Beverly Watts Davis, former director of the U.S. Center for Substance Abuse Prevention, is long enough to fill a few pages.

During a discussion of the panelist’s experiences founding the first black student group and pushing for educational equality at this college on Feb. 17, journalism sophomore Ivie Okungbowa asked a question.

She asked how she could learn more black history, find groups and get involved in preserving black history and continuing their work.

Davis replied, “Help us.”

In an interview on Feb. 23, Davis expanded her answer and said she does not know of current civil rights groups in San Antonio, but students can become involved in learning by joining national black sororities, such as Alpha Kappa Alpha.

Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority just celebrated 105 years since its inceptionas the first intercollegiate Greekletter sorority established and incorporated by Black women at Howard University.

In the 1950s and 1960s, sororities and fraternities were a common feature of student life at this college, but most have dissolved.

Currently, the historically black fraternities and sororities with San Antonio chapters are open to students from many area four-year colleges and universities.

In addition to sororities and fraternities, Davis said the generation that marched and mobilized in the 1960s and 1970s needs to find a way to preserve their history directly, through social events, filmmaking, print media or audio recordings.

She said history is not easy to make or document.

Davis said she is open to participating in any projects to document the history of local people who participated in the efforts for civil rights and equal treatment of minorities.

“Leadership is about finding someone who will join you in your mission,” Davis said. “The best times will be when you reach out.”

She said the one thing she wants young African-Americans, or anyone, to know and understand is, “Live your life as if you intend it to matter.”

She said we need engaged citizens instead of passive inhabitants.

In 1962, she was 6 years old, and her dad was stationed in Pensacola, Fla. and her assigned school was a black school.

She said her mom looked at the school and refused to send her kids there.

“She made such a fuss, there was an order given I be allowed to attend regular school,” Davis said.

She said the National Guard was ordered to escort her and her sister to school, and they had to endure the spitting and the flying objects people threw at them.

“As a 6-year-old, I had a teacher who was horrible to me and wouldn’t let me go to the bathroom,” she said.

One day, she had an accident in class and the teacher humiliated her, she said. “A little girl stood up for me and said, ‘she didn’t do that, a dog came in the room and I saw the dog do it,’” Davis said.

“The little girls started mobilizing for me, taking more time in the bathroom so I could have a chance at the end of the line.”

She said this was a life-changing experience. “It taught me what real leadership was,” Davis said. “They were putting themselves at risk.”

Davis described another time when her school attendance required protection. She said a woman with a badge was employed to protect her dorm at Trinity University by staying in the common area of the dorm.

She said car vandalism, a fire, a break-in and threats were all part of her experience in college.

Davis went on to graduate in 1979 with a triple major in psychology, economics and sociology and given a distinguished alumni award in 2009.

Her achievements include election to the Austin Community College board of trustees in 1992.

From there, she was recruited back to her home town of San Antonio to join San Antonio Fighting Back, a nonprofit engaged in preventing drug abuse and drug-connected violence.

She said the endeavor was so successful, the organization received calls from across the country to help other cities learn how to organize similar programs.

She said they helped cities develop strategies and build the capacity to handle the needs of law enforcement, city councils and neighborhoods regarding gangs, drugs and violence.

She continues a life of service at local, state and federal levels on issues surrounding drug abuse, community rehabilitation, violence prevention and ex-offender programs.


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