LIFE, WORKS OF JAMES E. DAVIS – “STATESMAN, VISIONARY,

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Thousands saluted the life and pledged to carry the torch for James E. Davis, the slain Brooklyn Councilman of the 35th District, in the  spirit of the love by which he lived and dedicated his life.
“Mr. Davis was on the verge of becoming something great for his people,” says Sabenah Casey, 39, a senior court clerk in the New York State Unified Court System.  “All politicians have good intentions; however, in our community they don’t have the full support of their constituents like politicians in other New York City communities.  Davis was a People Person.  He was accessible.  His constituents were more than supporters; they were extended family.
“The day he lay in City Hall, there were all types of people standing in line: Hassidic Jews, Hare Krishna, Blacks, Indians, Whites, children, seniors, Muslims, Fruit of Islam.  What this says to me is that the person {that}he was transcended all of his titles – the fact that he was a pastor, a former policeman, black or male. Who he was at his core was not overshadowed by his titles. He was able to connect with all of those different people that were there.”
At vigils, memorials, rallies, the wake and the funeral, dignitaries, political leaders, religious leaders,  colleagues and the ordinary people – who Davis put first – extolled his virtues, praised his good works, and encouraged everyone to become involved in his mission for urban American communities: to “love self and stop the violence.”  
The charismatic pastor and former police officer was fatally shot, Wednesday, July 23, just a few minutes after 2PM, inside Council Chambers at City Hall by Othniel Askew, 31, a would-be political rival.  Askew bypassed City Hall’s metal detectors by walking in with Mr. Davis.
According to Brooklyn Councilman Charles Barron at a rally the following Saturday in front of the Davis family Crown Heights home, “James was trying to love even his enemy and that’s a Christ-like quality.”   Barron also said that Davis may have tried to help Askew by joining forces with him, an aspect of Davis character that repeats itself throughout Davis’ life: to turn his enemies into friends.
During the week, in various speeches, sermons and testimonials, the obvious ironies of his life and tragic death unfolded in soliloquies:  Davis died from gunshots; he boldly marched against guns and violence, and yet he carried a gun.
That Wednesday morning, Davis walked past the Greene Avenue Laundromat in Brooklyn heading east towards Grand Avenue with a tall gentleman. It was about 8:30am. The laundromat manager knew the time because she usually completes her morning tasks by 8:30, and then settles in the storefront window seat to read a book.  Davis smiled and waved. The gentleman looked ahead.  The manager did not notice if they walked back past; she was engrossed  in her novel.
At approximately 11:00am, later on that morning, Vincent Council, brother of Marion, owner of Designer Braids on Fulton Street near St. James Place, spotted Davis striding pass the store with Askew. A little unusual, thought Council, only because Davis regularly traveled by himself.  He called out to the Councilman, “Hey, ‘Mr. James’!”  Davis flashed a smile and walked over to the salon.  Askew followed and  “asked about a young lady who used to work here.”   Vincent responded and didn’t pay him much attention.  In the world of the Council family, Davis was star.  “He always had that smile; he always brought sunshine as he walked through the neighborhood.”
“I’ve saved all the birthday cards and Christmas cards he sent me,” Marion and Vincent’s mother, Mary Lewis, later revealed.  “Every year he sent me cards.”
Vincent and Davis engaged in a brief conversation, and the last words Marion heard Davis tell her brother are the words that floated through all the services and memorials:   “Let me know if I can help you with anything.”   Davis and Askew walked a few doors from the Council business to X Kings & Queens Unisex Hair Parlor, a small clean place that dispenses the famous chiseled King Cuts which attract customers from as far away as New Jersey.  There, they engaged in what was reported as “heated discussions” as the morning aged, moving into noon.
A meeting Davis was supposed to have had with a businessman earlier that day had been rescheduled for another time during the day.  It probably was forgotten in the hustle of Davis getting from Brooklyn to Lower Manhattan to be on time for his work at City Hall.  
The Prospect Action Coalition knows about Davis’s work.  The organization called James when they needed help with a homeless issue in the neighborhood. They just asked, “Can you help us?”  Davis went to town, getting information, strategizing as he continued to fight about how the Department of Homeless Services does its business.  He introduced  a couple of bills in city council, one requesting at least three months notification before any shelter opens up in the neighborhood.  “He met with us a lot, always showed up at meetings and always had good ideas,” recalled Patti Hagan of PAC.
” He led a march  across Brooklyn Bridge  in opposition to the fire house closings.  He did big things, and he did little things.”
A couple of little things:  he made sure that young people and seniors got home safely at night if he saw them in the streets. He would put them in a taxi, on a bus or drive them home himself.  (This reporter heard three separate stories like this during the course of the James Davis memorials.)
Once he thanked a woman in the neighborhood for cleaning up after her dog. “Could you believe that an elected official would bother to thank someone for something  they are supposed to do?,” said the observer. “It’s amazing that he could reach so many people and include then in, and remember their names.”
He did all of these things outside of the glare of the television camera lights that seemed to find him, or he, them.
The Saturday  (26) “Stop the Violence Memorial Rally” at the corner of Eastern Parkway and Brooklyn Avenue, celebrated these things small and big about the man, including his quest for love and peace in the community.
Hazel Thomas, 73, who lived in the neighborhood for 52 years, before moving to another state, had never met the Councilman, but she traveled alone from Ford, N.J. to be at the rally.   “Did you know him,” she was asked?  “I knew him as a child of God,” she replied, tears coursing her cheeks. “So young.  I’m so hurt.  He was a willing worker for God, the community and the people. I’m so filled up. I met him through the television. I came over just for this.  On a cane.  Got here late but I got here. By bus, train and subway.  I got here.” And she turned around and padded back up Brooklyn Avenue towards Eastern Parkway, 20 minutes after she had arrived.
Irene Bramble, a music teacher from Dominica, sitting on her red brick porch  across the street from the rally, described Davis as “A statesman! An everyday-everybody guy.”
 As President of the Glendale-East Flatbush Civic Association, a consortium of 40 area blocks in Brooklyn, Sharon Boreno is the “eyes and ears” for the assemblypersons and councilpersons.  She is close to the dynamic Councilpersons Yvette Clarke and Charles Barron, of course, knew Davis.  She stood on the sidelines at the Candlelight Prayer Vigil, in front of Davis’s American-flag swathed campaign headquarters at 633 Vanderbilt Avenue, down the street from Bob Law’s thriving restaurant.  She started her Young Leaders of Tomorrow program at around the same time that Davis formed his not-for-profit  “Love Yourself: Stop the Violence” program dedicated to halting the scourge that rages through the streets of urban America. 
“The streets had gone amuck.  A young child was burned on the way to school, children were getting injured and shot,” she recalls.  Ms. Boreno’s, daughter Denise, was felled by a bullet which “tore apart her stomach and other organs, one cold day, coming from church.”  Her daughter survived.
Boreno stood near the Thompson family of Flatbush: Veron, the mother; Deval, father and their son Dayne, 16, a junior at Science Skills Center High School, who had met Davis at a Health Fair, three weeks before, through his mom.  “He said ‘Keep hope alive!’ He wanted to reach out to everybody.  You know how New Yorkers pass by without a smile. It would be hard for him to pass by without saying, ‘Hi!’ I’m always going to try as I grow up to have a smile, so I can show people the same love that he showed me when he was alive.”
Duke Saunders worked with Davis on an earlier campaign.  He said, “James opened the door and let people into his life because he was fearless.  He walked down dark streets, he had no fear of meeting people other people didn’t want to meet.”
The Rev. Clinton M. Miller of Clinton Hill’s Brown Memorial Baptist Church said that Davis was “more American than George Bush.” 
Michelle Dotson, a childhood friend of Davis, brought her son.  She said, smiling through the welling tears,  “We were so proud of Rocky.  When he became a pastor, I called him Rev. Rocky, when he became a policeman, he was Officer Rocky.  I have to go home.” Dotson moved through the street to her home on St. John’s Place, down the block from House of the Hills Church where the viewing services were to be held the next day (Sunday, July 27).
During the night, other childhood pals Bruce Beattie of Crown Heights, a Tilden high School classmate of Davis, connected with other saddened  former Tilden Blue Devils of the school’s football team. They decided to give the converging media another “view” of their old friend Rocky.  They would bring old pictures and a 1970’s  Tilden yearbook to display outside of the House of the Hills viewing services.
“We wanted to present another side of Rocky,” said one of his former teammates. “He’s the councilman, the former police officer; we wanted show what he was before that.”  In the high school yearbook, Rocky with mile-wide Afro is sitting smack in the middle of a large group photo of the Tilden High athletic teams.  “I was his protector,” said a former classmate, who came in from Long Island.
More than 7,000 people lined St. John’s Place, across the street from St. Gregory’s where Davis attended elementary school.  The viewing began at 1PM and ended after 9PM.  A cordon of cars blocked off  the area around the funeral home, at the corner of Brooklyn Avenue.  The New York affiliate stations of every major television network set up camp all day, and conducted interview after interview with Beattie, his friends, Geoffrey Davis, James’ brother, and the ever-present anchor, Councilman  Barron.
The next day (Monday, July 28), the Davis family visited City Hall, and viewed their son and brother who lay in state at the foot of the staircase in the lobby of the rotunda. 
Outside, thousands of people from all walks of life lined up to pay respects to the slain leader from noon to 4pm.    At a few minutes past 2, Susan Slater realized she was entering City Hall at about the same time Davis was shot there.  She shuddered and recalled how he once visited her church at her personal request. “And look at the lives he saved.”
The wake/reflections service occurred at Elim International Church later that evening   Jay Hershenson, CUNY’s Vice Chancellor of the University Relations for CUNY, later expressed to Our Time Press, “The wake was such an emotional experience, a profoundly emotional experience.”  Among the speakers was Sen. Hillary Clinton, who received a resounding ovation for her warm, charged, church-meeting words.
“As we pay tribute to this man, we pay tribute to  Mrs. Davis.  God entrusted her with  the responsibility and privilege of being James’ mother.
“My favorite way of knowing James was marching in a parade with him. You might as well move over.  James was the parade.  He was a one-man parade!,” she exclaimed to laughter from the audience. “We have to be prepared to carry on his legacy and his mission, knowing he’s up there organizing something. (He’s probably is saying to) St. Peter, ‘I’ve got a few questions I’ve always wanted to ask you.'”
Al Fishman,  chair of the Brooklyn Academy of Music and President of the Independent Community Bank, commented, “his loss is unspeakable. He recognized that the arts helped to build our community.”  BAM Board member Danny Simmons commented later, “James was a great supporter of the arts.  We could always count on him to be around to encourage and support.  He will be deeply missed.”  Supreme Court Judge Laura Jacobson, observed, “He was a human connection machine, not a political machine, a breath of fresh air in politics; he wanted all people to be at the table.”
Before introducing a wonderful alto singer who could convey his feelings better than he says he could express them, Barron simply noted, “James was a voice of power, a voice of change.” 
Janet Minto, Davis’ Chief of Staff, said he was her pastor as well as her employer. “He took church with him everywhere. To Trinidad.  To Israel.  When he saw homeless on the streets, he was a man of God. ”
Geoffrey Davis, now aspiring to replace his brother James on the Council seat, took up the mike, and walked the aisles: “Hey Rock, we made history! My brother made history!  Love yourself! Stop the Violence! Look at yourself! You’re beautiful! We’re going to do this! We’re going to do it with love! The struggle continues! The fire! The fury!  I loved my brother.  I love you!”
Kevin Muhammad,  the NY representative of Minister Louis Farrakhan, said, “When someone dies who has done (good  work), they are ever living.  This is why thousands are here.  Funerals are for the living.  We can take from the life that we (lost). When was the last time you got in touch with a rose. Love your neighbor as yourself!”
The morning of the funeral, Jeffrey Jenkins of Clinton Hill, “wanted to beat the (huge) crowds” that he anticipated would be at the church well before the start of the service at 11:00AM. He was the very first to arrive at 4:00AM, “before the news crews set up.”   The second arrival, two hours later, was Sonia Robinson, dressed in white, who traveled all the way from The Bronx.
Shawanna Brown, also an early-comer on line, described how Davis had helped her aunt, 80 (the first black woman to move into and live in the private brick apartments on southeast side of Clinton Avenue in 1969), hold on to the apartment she was about to lose.
There were stories like Shawanna’s percolating throughout the crowd on that bright, hot day.  Nearly 1,000 people filled the church; hundreds stood outside and others sat in the church extension with television monitors.  Many others, like former community activist Janie Weatherspoon Green, came for a few moments to experience the moment, then traveled back home. “Didn’t all those black men look sharp in those dark suits!,” she remarked later. 
Aspects of Davis’ life — from his sartorial elegance and style which he carried even to the beach on a  Tobago vacation trip (“He did not want the media to catch him NOT working on the job!”) to his penchant for self-marketing — were talked up at the wake the night before.
This reporter sat down next to Eleanor Rollins, 20 minutes before the service would begin at 11:00am.  A college administrator and faculty member for CUNY for more than 25 years, Rollins was trained as a regional planner and shared some thoughts on the significance of Davis’ work in his District – which she indicates may have eventual national significance as  the microcosm for urban America. .
“The 35th district (served by Davis) covers the essence of what Brooklyn is, and it also is a microcosm of New York City.  The area has one of the most varied housing stock in New York City. There are landmark districts, gentrifying districts; there are the great economic development initiatives, some of the most beautiful parks and several major cultural districts; The Brooklyn Museum is being renovated; the downtown area is growing and the district is part of and adjacent to MetroTech.  Spanning from Crown  Heights to Flushing, Davis’ district covers many different kinds of neighborhoods. It is a very powerful little window on New York today.
“His office is located on DeKalb Avenue, one of the first areas to gentrify 30 years ago,” said Rollins.  “All those beautiful big brownstones were single occupancy and rooming houses at one time. A great deal of money was invested to bring them back to their original grandeur.”
“Combine all of that with the fact that political change is in the air.  Davis would have been an influencer of that change.”
In some reports  often they say he spoke of becoming the next black mayor.  But Lou Watkins, Community Board III’s district manager, knows more.  The day after Davis’ death, while at lunch at Sugar Hill restaurant,  Watkins revealed the councilman’s secret political strategy: “He told me that he had planned to announce he would run for Mayor, then drop out of the race and put his support behind the candidate who would give him the Police Commissioner’s slot.  He was a brilliant strategist!”
Congressman Charles Rangel of Harlem commented that in all of his years, he had never seen “such an outpouring of love.”  Speaker after speaker presented flowing, solemn words.  Mayor Bloomberg commented, “He was a true leader.  He had the ability to work with people of all backgrounds.”  The Mayor also encouraged Davis brother Geoffrey, who will run in the fall elections, to “do what your brother did.  Do what you think is right! Don’t worry about what others think about it!”  Police Commissioner Kelly remarked, “He stood his ground. He was a fighter.”
Gifford Miller,  City Council head, who sometimes went loggerheads with Davis, said, “We mourn his death, more importantly we celebrate his life.  He never stopped living.” He also said, “James lit up rooms, he was a man of action. He had no fear of anything. Certainly, not me. He took his (campaign) from the streets of Brooklyn to the marble corridors of City Hall. The death of James Davis, as traumatic as it was, must not be in vain. The  memorial should not be of stone, but of spirit. Make the August 16 anti- violence parade the largest ever.”
“Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowrtz said with humor, ” He loved controversy, and his big posters all around town.” 
Mary Pinkett, who formerly reigned in the 35th Congressional District seat,  said passionately, “Thanks to the family who gave us James Davis.  He was the right person for this seat. He had a family who understood how to be a family. They turned a light, set a spark.”
Former New York City Mayor David Dinkins enjoyed a standing ovation and long applause when he was called to the podium. He paid tribute to ” the prince, the apostle, the friend,” who “lived a good life.”
Preaching emanated from some surprising places … like Miller.  But it was The Rev Al Sharpton who most wanted to hear.  The Rev. cut his trip in Africa a day short to come to the U.S. upon hearing the news of Davis’ death.   The Rev. was personally invited by Thelma Davis, James’ mother, to give the eulogy.  In an acknowledgment of the approaching 40th anniversary of  Martin Luther Kings’ 1963 March on Washington,        Sharpton compared Davis to King: they were both devoted to the mission of leading the black community “out of the wilderness.”  Rev. preached and the people responded: “I knew it was getting a little too solemn in here,” said Rollins who admitted that she agrees with Sharpton 95% of the time.  (The text of Rev. Sharpton’s eulogy will be presented {if we are able to obtain it} in the September issue of Our Time Press.)
Applause broke out as the casket draped in an American flag slowly made its way down the aisle with a police honor guard tending.  Sharpton, Charles Barron and other ministers and community leaders walked behind the hearse.  Thousands followed them through Bedford Stuyvesant and Crown Heights, down St. John’s to Nostrand to Eastern Parkway, and to Brooklyn Avenue, pass the Davis family home, led by drummers.
They chanted the Davis mantra, “Love Yourself! Stop the Violence!”  In a van driven by Medgar Evers College photographer Tony Akeem, Mrs. Phyllis Stroubles, a friend of Davis’, overheard the sweet voice of a little girl – about age three or four – calling out, “James E. Davis! James E. Davis! Love Yourself! Love Yourself!”   Akeem’s passengers were taken aback, somewhat. It was a pleasant and rare voice  “Did you hear that?,” Phyllis asked.
Akeem had not.  He was thinking about the 15th Annual Celebration of the Ancestors of the Middle Passage June 2004 event at Coney Island beach.  “James is an ancestor now.   A portion of the celebration will be dedicated to him. We gotta start planning for it soon.”
Comments
Yvette Clarke, Councilwoman: “When our community faced a crisis, James Davis was ready take the issue to the streets and to the people.   We lost  a serving council member to senseless violence, but more importantly, a family lost a son and a brother. And a community lost a friend and a leader.”
Sabena Casey:  I like what he was about.  As much as it bewildered me when they told me that he was dead, I understand why God chose him because he would be the one who would awaken and unite the community. 
It is the people who make the politicians.  The politicians have to answer to their constituency.  Not the constituency answer to the politicians.  James knew this and he lived this. He answered to the people and they responded, instead of being inaccessible.  He was open to hear, he actually heard people who spoke to him.
If I had a problem with this, that or the other, he helped me. God decided to take him to force us to take back our community.  We have gotten into the habit of looking for a patriarchal figure. He was definitely a strong one.  Now, everyone has to take responsibility for their community.
Eleanor Rollins: What was remarkable about him was that he obviously spent a lot of time talking to the people in his community and that is rare in this day and age; he spent a lot of time listening, and actually solving some of the problems that the city brought to him. He did the job. 
When people have issues, like problems with sanitation, their neighbors, parking, they take it to the councilperson.  That’s why council people work so hard, the quality of life issues come to the city council.  He was going to continue as an iconoclast.  He voted against the tax increase of 18.5% for residential  homes and  voted against parking fees.   He tried to protect every citizen where we most felt the pain.
James E. Johnson,  youth officer, who was Davis’ partner for a little over a year: He  knew how to open doors.  Once it was opened, he opened it for the underdog.
True friend, Great man!  If I said I would die for James, he would say, ‘Don’t die for me  Take what I’ve got and go and live for me.'”
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