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Precious Davis reflects on Center, excited for Columbia
by Ross Forman, Windy City Times
2014-09-30

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Precious Davis is leaving her "labor of love and the place where I found myself" in favor of a full circle journey back to Columbia College.

Davis, 28, who lives in Lakeview announced in late September that she resigned her position at the Center on Halsted, where she has worked for the past three years as the youth outreach coordinator. She will become the assistant director of diversity recruitment initiatives at Columbia—her alma mater.

"I am excited to recruit LGBT youth and other diverse talent to join the Columbia College family," she said. "Social justice, diversity work, and human relations are natural talents and passions of mine, [and] I am elated to facilitate conversations on what diversity looks like in education in 2014. The scope of my view is broad being a bi-racial trans woman of color who has overcome obstacles and understands the multiple facets and intersectionality that makes up the essence of diversity work."

Davis said working in higher education and academia is the next logical step her career. "I have worked in the field of diversity work for the last 10 years," she said. "This job is the best summation of my professional skills to date. I also feel my relative experience as a Columbia College graduate will shape my understanding greatly of Columbia's unique population's needs and challenges."

Davis said her short-term goal is to create a culture of trained staff who understand the unique needs of diverse populations. "In order to do that, I must redefine the definition of diversity though training sessions, social justice exercises, and community surveying," she said. "Then we can accurately accommodate potential diverse students. In the long term, my goal is to create scholarship opportunities for LGBT youth, specifically [for] transgender [and] young people with diverse experiences."

Davis' last day at the Center is Oct. 8, and she starts at Columbia on Oct. 14.

"My work [at the Center] pulled continuously from my heart and soul with passion each day to create programs, community outreach, and events that had a tangible effect on LGBT youth because I believe in young people," Davis said. "I believe in their ideas, their livelihood, and their self-expression. My daily goal always was to inspire, empower and educate creatively in an unbiased manner.

"When I started working at the Center, I thought I would be the one teaching young people skills and tools to navigate the world, but the young people whom I had the privilege of getting to know the last three years have taught me more about myself and have empowered me to always be bold no matter what the circumstances are."

Davis started and launched the Mpowerment Intervention and coordinated the program for the last three years. "Under my coordination, [more than] 300 African-American and Latino gay and bisexual youth participated in one of the safer sex workshops that I taught monthly, [and also] participated in one of the large scale events that I planned."

Davis said she remains proud of her Center tenure and the relationships built, especially with the younger generation.

"I never threw the towel in," Davis said. "I am not a quitter when things get tough. Social work is a hard job. You often see and hear the worst things that can happen in the world. I stuck it out because I believe that my role was vital and needed. I personally believe in empowering LGBT youth because I struggled as an adolescent not having individuals to identify with.

"Countless young people every week were relying on me to help them access hormones, shelter, a confidant, a hug, and even a smile—the little things we often take for granted. That's what resonates most—my time and moments with the youth. I have seen many of them grow up before my eyes. Many of the young people call me Mama Precious and that's a good feeling.

"Earning the trust of young people is not easy. They automatically are skeptical of adults because of the power dynamic that exist between youth and adults. Being able to bridge that gap and participate in a process that empowers young people to be agents of change in their life while serving as a mentor and witnessing someone's life change positively is one of the best feelings you can ever feel."

So naturally, it's those same young people who Davis will miss most. In fact, she's admittedly "dreading" saying goodbye.

"Their stories are powerful. Their hearts are big," she said. "A lot of the kids who frequent the Center will travel an hour and a half to have a safe place they can be themselves. I will miss the youth staff at the Center who in my opinion are the salvation of the organization. I believe I worked with some of the best in the social service field who believe that the basis and root of social services work is founded upon principles of social justice. In my book, there is no other way."

Davis said her stint at the Center was "momentous and bittersweet."

"I feel like a caterpillar who has blossomed into a beautiful butterfly and now must fly," she said. "I transitioned into the woman I've wanted to be my entire life and in that regard I have never been happier. Being a trailblazer has its challenges on the dawn of trans visibility and resilience in the work place. While I had some great moments in terms of creating successful programs and events, it is hard being the only trans woman of color working at an organization where that has never been a precedent. I consistently was leading efforts to create space to lead other trans initiatives, but had to advocate for myself in a way that felt defeating at times.

"The Center has some work to do in terms of transgender equality and creating a space that propels transgender individuals on staff as well as transgender patrons in the community. My recommendations include a fully funded position specifically focused on transgender youth programs and services as well as a fully comprehensive health insurance plan that covers transition costs."

Davis, who identifies as queer and is dating Myles Brady, the transgender outreach coordinator at Howard Brown Health Center, said her Columbia gig will be to oversee and be responsible for providing leadership and carrying out a campus-wide diversity initiative. "I also will be at practices for recruiting diverse populations and shape admissions policies that collaboratively work with the enrollment management team."

A portion of the job also will be responsible for representing Columbia College both locally and nationally, delivering diversity recruitment events as well as training students, faculty, recruiters, and counselors on trends in student recruitment and diversity engagement.


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