By Julia Siemens
Photo by David Cho
If you passed by the corner of Rainier and Henderson last September, you may have heard Jerrell Davis ’14 freestyle rapping on a karaoke mic. But he wasn’t the only one.
People waiting at the bus stop, leaving the community center, or meandering by took turns singing or rapping. Similar events take place every week in Seattle’s Rainier Beach neighborhood as part of the Corner Greeter Project, run by Rainier Beach Action Coalition, where Davis is coordinator and an outreach worker.
The Project employs about a dozen students to analyze crime data from the Seattle Police Department. Based on that data, students have adopted five corners in the Rainier Beach neighborhood. They then choose a community engagement strategy, such as face painting or distributing free snacks, alongside a neighborhood information booth, at one of the corners. Since the project began two years ago, overall crime in the Rainier Beach neighborhood has decreased 33 percent.
“We’re transforming spaces for people to see the light,” says Davis. “It’s a chance for locals to tell the true narrative about the neighborhood.”
It’s just one of many ways Davis is involved with supporting young leaders in the neighborhood. And this work is why he’s being recognized as Seattle Pacific University’s GOLD (Graduates of the Last Decade) Alumnus of the Year for 2017.
Davis spends most of his day working at Rainier Beach High School as a Servant Leader Educator with Washington Building Leaders of Change (WA-BLOC). There, he mentors 15 students one-on-one, acts as a liaison between students and their teachers and family, leads assemblies, and serves as the Black Student Union staff advisor. He’s also a community activist, spoken-word artist, occasional writer for the South Seattle Emerald, and a basketball coach at Bailey Gatzert Elementary in the Central District.
Davis grew up in Seattle’s Rainier Beach neighborhood, attended school locally through middle school, and then went to O’Dea, a private Catholic school on First Hill, followed by Seattle Pacific University. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in sociology and business economics, he returned to the south end.
“These are my folks,” Davis says. “I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing.”
For the past two summers, Davis has helped facilitate Children’s Defense Fund Freedom Schools, led by WA-BLOC. “It’s a countercultural summer program made for African-American students,” Davis says. “Usually when you go to a classroom, you know who’s in charge: It’s the teacher. At Freedom Schools, ‘we’ are in charge. The students lead discussions and we learn together.” Students have a social justice-centered curriculum where they read a book per week by a writer of color.
Fellow Servant Leader Educator Renée Willette says Davis often talks about how education is not about just pouring into students, but about “drawing forth or bringing out,” from the word “educe.”
“When I watch Jerrell teach class in a circle, he has the magic of educing the best in students,” she says. “He is a premier educator.”