In honor of Women’s History Month, we interviewed one of the influential women in our community, Reverend DeLishia Davis. Rev. Davis serves on the board of People For the American Way Foundation and is an active member of our African American Ministers Leadership Council.
We caught up with Rev. Davis to talk with her about her social justice work and advocacy, her involvement in her community, and her inspirations.
Rev. Davis: Thank you for the invitation to participate in this interview as we celebrate Women’s History Month. It is my honor to serve the People for the American Way Foundation as a board member and to advocate for social justice issues nationally. I appreciate the efforts of President Ben Jealous, the Board of Directors, the devoted staff and all of our partners and friends all over the world.
Q: What sparked your interest in becoming involved in social justice and advocacy?
During my collegiate years, I had an internship with the House of Ruth where I witnessed women and children that were severely bruised, abandoned and abused. Many of them were unable to speak up for themselves due to fear or frustration and they simply needed someone to place expressed concern into action. The women of color were treated harsher and endured more obstacles within the court system and social service agencies for any assistance. Furthermore, the children of color frequently were subjects of revictimization and continual cycles of abuse. At that time, I decided to devote my life to aiding those who needed advocacy for a better life and future.
Q: How do you define social justice for your work in communities of faith?
I am a person of faith with deeply religious values and constitutional values which remind us that all were created equal and should be treated with equity. Social justice means people from all identity groups have equal access to wealth, opportunity, and privileges in society. My faith values include three principles: do no harm, do good to others, and stay in love with God. Social justice work affords me opportunities to do good and create healthy environments where love for all people is encouraged and celebrated. My social justice work includes speaking truth to power in community and religious venues combined with activity to ensure equality, equity, freedom, and justice for all. I work in the areas of domestic violence advocacy, voter registration, voter education, economic empowerment and civic engagement. In addition to my service as a Board member of People for the American Way, I also serve as the Pastor of Calloway United Methodist Church in Arlington, Virginia, the founder of New Beginnings Foundation for domestic violence victims, the President of the Arlington Coalition of Black Clergy, the Chaplain of the Northern Virginia section of the National Council of Negro Women and the Chairperson of Religious Affairs for the Arlington Branch of the National Council for the Advancement of Colored People. I have dedicated my life to serving others.
Q: What is your favorite way to engage with your community?
As a Pastor and Community organizer, I love to engage with people of all faiths, nationalities, and preferences in the Washington Metropolitan Area through community forums and gatherings. I love to hear people’s stories and hear about their positive development in life. Since the pandemic began, my focused engagement has been through social media platforms, however I look forward to safely sharing space and inspiring stories with others again.
Q: What inspires you to be involved with People For’s African American Ministers Leadership Council?
It is my honor to serve the African American Religious Affairs Department of People for the American Way. I have been an active participant with the African American Ministers Leadership Council for over twelve years. I was formally trained by our dynamic leader, Rev. Leslie Watson Wilson, in the areas of voter registration, voter education, and mobilization. I serve as a trainer for other leaders in the Vessels Vote and the Souls to the Polls programs. I am also a part of the Vashti program for Women and an Advisor to the Micah Leadership Council. Results inspire me. I am inspired by seeing major changes on the local, state, and national levels as a result of the men and women that we have registered, candidates we have assisted in running for public offices and the empowered citizens to make informed decisions and to advance in society. The wonderful clergy persons, lay leadership, and youth of the AARA Department are making an impact in local jurisdictions, state, and national elections. The programs have made a major difference in the world.
Q: What would you say to young people wanting to become involved in the social justice movement?
As an aspiring clergyperson in 1998, Dr. Joseph Lowery advised me, “Find something that breaks your heart, and then break your back to change it.” He encouraged me to place my energy and emphasis on the issues that really mattered to me. I encourage any young person that wants to be involved in the social justice movement to focus on the areas of his or her greatest concern, find a mentor in the movement that provides support and wisdom, and always celebrate small victories that will lead to greater victories in the future.
Q: What woman inspires you and why?
I am inspired by Stacey Abrams, a former fellow in the People For’s Young People For program. Stacey Abrams is a strong political leader, voting rights activist and New York Times bestselling author. In particular, I am incredibly inspired by her actions after the gross mismanagement of the 2018 Georgia State election. Instead of becoming bitter, Stacey showed the world that she became better as a result of that experience. She redirected her efforts into aiding the people of the State of Georgia through the launch of Fair Fight, which focuses on civic engagement and voter registration. Stacey allowed her pain to lead to her purpose, which has renewed the hope of Americans all over the nation.
Q: What is something that brings you joy?
My greatest joys in life are my beautiful daughters, Maya Alexis Davis and Mycah Alexandrea Davis, whom I affectionately call M&M. I enjoy spending time with M&M, advocating for others, reading, listening to jazz, playing tennis and the Washington Nationals baseball games.
Q: What is something you’re excited about for the future?
I am optimistic and excited about the future of People for the American Way and the future of the United States of America. Although we have endured a rough season in our nation, I believe America is now on a trajectory to become the place that Dr. King dreamed of, Rosa Parks sat for, John Lewis was into good trouble for, Barbara Jordan organized for, Dolores Huerta hopes for and our hearts long for each day. As that dream advances into reality, I partner with my friends from all walks of life to say, “Facing the rising sun of a new day begun, Let us march on till victory is won.”