(Note: This is the third in our 15 under 30 series, profiling 15 unsung millennials who are catalyst for social change in the greater Seattle region)
by Daria Kroupoderova
Community activist. Poet. Artist. Educator. Twenty-three year old Jerrell Davis wears many hats in his Rainier Beach community.
Currently, Davis works as a servant-leader educator at Rainier Beach High School and also coaches basketball at three different elementary schools. He has also done work with the Rainier Beach Action Coalition.
And he is a published poet.“My two favorite poets are Tupac and E.E. Cummings,” Davis said with a smile.
Throughout all of his community work, Davis has always had one main focus: making a difference in the lives of youth.
This past summer, Davis worked with Children’s Defense Fund Freedom Schools, a summer program for youth. During the six-week program, the students read a book a week. Each one was authored by a person of color. One book in particular really stuck with the students– Freedom Riders by James Haskins.
This book inspired the students and educators involved to do something on what became their Day of Social Action. A few years ago, Seattle Public Schools did away with school buses and implemented a two-mile walk zone. If students lived within two miles of their school, they were required to find their own transportation to and from school.
“The reality is two miles is still a long way to go, especially if you’re talking about a neighborhood that’s plagued by lack of jobs, substandard housing and big families,” Davis said.
They developed a plan to march on July 31 from the Seattle Public Schools headquarters to City Hall, a 1.4 mile stretch, which reflected about how long students have to walk to school. They received support from the Transit Riders Union, Urban Impact, and Rainier Beach Action Coalition. The march got attention.
“I give all the credit to the students because it was from their ingenuity and dedication to it,” Davis said.
They later held a Town Hall on Oct. 22 on transit justice. The Town Hall was student led; students presented, with Davis and other leaders in the Freedom Schools program advising them.
“We did our research,” Davis said. “We showed how it’s a domino effect of students need to get to school on time, and how that affects their attendance, that affects their grades, that affects their graduation rates out of school.”
They finally got a sit down with both school board and district members where they discussed necessary next steps. On Feb. 3, the school board unanimously voted to pass the ORCA Card Passport Program that provides ORCA cards for students who live beyond one mile from their school and who are on free or reduced lunch. In the passed resolution, the school board is ordered to work toward providing ORCA cards for all Seattle Public School students.
“Students saw that they can actually do something. It takes some persistence, it takes planning, it takes time but you can change the way some of these things are and even for me that was inspiring,” Davis said.
Davis thinks it’s crucial to work with youth within his community.
“He always emphasizes the value of students,” said his friend Tyra Griffith.
Girlfriend Darozyl Touch calls Davis compassionate, humble and resilient. Even though he receives a great deal of praise within his community, he’s still modest, according to her.
Another way Davis gives back is by coaching basketball to kids of all ages. He’s coached at over 25 Seattle Public Elementary schools. Currently he coaches at Hawthorne Elementary, Graham Hill Elementary and The Bush School.
He’s been playing since he was a kid. The game has always been therapeutic to him. He says it can teach young people important life lessons, such as the value of hard work.
“Basketball is hella metaphorical for life, but I wouldn’t define my life through basketball at all,” Davis said. When kids in his coaching camps tell him they want to slam dunk or do other unattainable tricks for a three-foot tall human, Davis tries to instill fundamentals first. He teaches them to first work hard at the basics so then they can reach their basketball goals in the future.
“Nothing comes easy, everything comes with work,” Davis said. “There’s a growing culture of convenience…it takes away from the concept of hard work.”
Davis graduated from Seattle Pacific University with bachelor’s in sociology and business economics in 2014. While in school, he supported himself on two jobs.
He can’t imagine where he’ll be in five years but he wants to make sure his values stick with him: the pursuit of justice, living selflessly, and loving his ever growing family within the community.
As long as he’s making a positive change in the community with youth, Davis is satisfied.
“I love the imagination of children; I would rather work with young people any day.”