Beauty for Ashes

Isaiah 61: 1-3 “The spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion – to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.”

This has not been fun. The coronavirus is not funny, it is not a joke, it is not fake news. It is real, it is deadly and it is insidious. We had no personal control over the virus and could not stop it on our own. It was going to affect everyone, white and black, rich and poor, from the White House to my house, we have all been forced to live a new normal. Like it or not.

As the virus spread throughout Washington, it felt like being in a horror movie like the 1960’s movie “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”. Who would be next to catch the virus? Would it be me or someone I love? Anything was possible.

Jerrell Davis, age 3

While we waited anxiously to see who was being affected by the virus, it was very easy to act as if this was something to brush off and it would simply go away. Hardly. When Seattle Public Schools closed on March 12th, people started thinking about this a little differently, like maybe it was more serious than they originally thought.

Jerrell Davis, age 3

The Life Care Center in Kirkland, Washington continued to be the epicenter with elderly patients dying almost daily. But still, that did not bother most people because we were thinking, “I’m not old, my body is not vulnerable”. Wrong thinking. There have been people saying, “Black people are not getting the virus.” Wrong thinking again! Black people have gotten the virus and some have died from it. I believe we are finally getting to the place of understanding the seriousness of COVID 19. I know, because some people are showing their true colors by their behavior. There are those who have hoarded much needed sanitizer, toilet paper, masks and paper towels. They have bought these items in excess without regard for the needs of others. The spirit of greed has played out in the aisles of Costco and other drugstores. Just the other day as I returned to my car from Bartell’s drug store, a man getting in the car next to me shouted “There are no masks in this world, this is sh.t!!” I just looked at him, said “I know”, and calmly tried to get in my car. In a nearby Rite Aid drugstore, a man was so angry he began cursing in the aisle. When he saw me and another lady look up, he calmed down for a moment to say “Excuse me”. He too was angry about the limited supply of items available in the store.

Jerrell Davis, age 3

Well, I know you’re probably thinking, “I thought this was about beauty for ashes”. I am getting to it, just be patient. I wanted you to know why the idea even came to me. A few days ago, my son sent me a series of pictures from his childhood that he edited to show his sentiment about the coronavirus. The pictures you are seeing in this post were taken during a family outing at Universal City Walk, Hollywood when he was just three years old (1995). We had stopped at a dancing water fountain that randomly sprang up at different intervals. He thought it was amazing and fun. I was able to take pictures of him at different times while he played in the fountain. The last photo shows him crying because he got completely soaked! When he sent me the edited version of the photos, I was so tickled as they accurately depicted my feelings about the current situation we are in.

Jerrell Davis, age 3

While COVID 19 is not funny in the least, we have to keep living and do our best to keep our heads up and find joy in our day to day lives. Believe me when I say I am encouraging myself while I encourage you! Isaiah 61:3 says, “To bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, and the oil of joy instead of mourning”. All I can say is “HALLELUJAH!” I need that! I believe we all need it. We need spiritual restoration from the devastating effects of the coronavirus on our world. So when my son sent me those photos, it made me smile and realize that I could still have a sense of humor. I could laugh and be joyful, and openly share that I am grateful to be alive and healthy. Make no mistake, that does not mean it is okay to make fun or light of those who have been or still are affected by the coronavirus. We should be showing love, kindness, grace and mercy to all. We are responsible for helping each other through this pandemic. We still have life, which means we still have time to pray and unselfishly give of our time and talents to help one another through this season. We have time to take groceries to someone in need, give cash to someone in need, make meals for someone, or call those you have not checked on for a while. There are many ways to make a difference right now, to give your neighbor the gift of “beauty for ashes”. I hope you are not one of the people who have hoarded items that are needed by others. If you do have extra supplies, please share them with someone who does not have as much. The Lord requires us “to take care of orphans and widows” (James 1: 27)!

What are you doing to give “beauty for ashes”? I know that WA-BLOC (Washington Building Leaders Of Change) is leading “Feed the Beach” and providing food to 150-200 Rainier Beach residents every Tuesday and Thursday. They have been leading this effort since March 13th. They are way ahead of everyone else. My employer, Seattle Municipal Court, is paying my salary right now, even though I am not able to work from home, and I am grateful. My husband’s non-profit organization, Rainier Beach Action Coalition, closed for two weeks starting March 25th. RBAC leadership made the decision to pay staff during the closure. Say Amen somebody! My sister Fai delivered a lemon meringue pie to my doorstep. My neighbor, Dr. Polly Fabian is providing our family with important information about COVID 19 and staying healthy, my friend Annjanette sends me articles and ministry materials to strengthen my faith, my cousin Daryl and my friend Carliss send scriptures to strengthen my faith, and my neighbor Scott edged my grass just because he is a good neighbor. My son even brought over a care package that included gummy vitamins, a bag of frozen tater tots (HILARIOUS), batteries and a disposable camera to photo chronicle this unprecedented time. These things are beauty for ashes for me. Let me know what restores you and your family during this time. What is your beauty for ashes, oil of joy and garment of praise? May God continue to bless you and keep you healthy.

Enjoy this song by Mary Mary, “Can’t Give Up Now”.

Black History Month Is Never Over

Jeremiah 29:11

“For I know the plans I have for you, to prosper you and not harm you. To give you hope and a future.”

You certainly don’t need me to tell you, but I’m going to say it anyway, “Black History is American History and should be celebrated ALL year”. So let’s not say goodbye to Black History Month, let’s say farewell to February and continue to celebrate the wonderful history of Black people right on through March and beyond. God’s promise is to give us hope and a future. He has predestined our greatness, and we all make history when we realize the power within ourselves to change the world.

I want to celebrate people in my family who have made history or are making history right now. WORD! Brothers and sisters, you can make history today!

I have to start with my mother, Frances Simmons. She was the prettiest, sweetest, and best fisherman/woman ever. She was famous for being able to put her line down and fish at a moment’s notice. She would go on trips to Moses Lake and bring back coolers full of crappie, and then share them with family and friends. She taught her family the love of fishing as well, so all of us grew up knowing how to cast a line. She also taught us we could do anything a white person could do, and our race did not exclude us from experiencing the same opportunities afforded whites. She made me enter a local fishing derby in the late 60’s and early 70’s called the Huck Finn/Becky Thatcher fishing derby. It was held at Greenlake. She and my aunt designed costumes for three years straight, until I finally won first prize for my Becky Thatcher costume and took home a new bicycle.

Imagine that! A Black Becky Thatcher! Becky Thatcher was a fictional character in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer book, and of course, she was white. My mother pushed the envelope and said, “we are going to win this”, and eventually we did! I was timid about entering the contest, not knowing what people would think and how they would react. My mother’s determination and encouragement that I could do anything regardless of my race, made my fear and trepidation melt away. After I won the bicycle, they ended the derby!

Hellyne Summerrise – My aunt and Seattle civil rights icon. She marched with Martin Luther King Jr. during his visit to Seattle in the early 1960’s. She also participated in the Poor People’s Campaign in Washington, D.C., May 12 – June 24, 1968 shortly after King’s assassination. The Poor People’s Campaign focused on economic justice for poor people. Hellyne and her husband Bob, were among those who had the opportunity to meet Nelson Mandela when he visited Seattle after he was released from prison. She also participated in protests against apartheid and was placed under arrest at the South African embassy in Seattle. In addition to her civil rights work, she opened her own Montessori school on King Street, called “The Little House.” This sister was bad! A great activist and educator.

Robert “Bob” Summerrise, Jr. – My uncle Bob was one of the first Black on-air personalities in Seattle. He was employed by several radio stations, most notably KYAC. His smooth voice melted the hearts of the local jazz and blues fans. He owned two record shops in Seattle (family can correct me if there were more). The first was Summerrise World of Music on Jackson Street. He later opened The Wholesale House on Rainier Avenue, across from Borrachini’s bakery. His son, Robin Summerrise, continues his legacy and has also melted hearts with his smooth, sweet interactive style that he brings to deejaying. One of my favorite memories of Papa Bob was when he took me to see The Jackson Five. I was around nine years old. It was the one and only time I saw Michael Jackson live. Bob was friends with many great musicians, most notably, Seattle music legend Quincy Jones. He was also friends with the late Rev. James Bevel, a civil rights activist and friend of Dr. King.

My sister, Fai Mathews and cousin Marsha Miles (Summerrise) were models in the Zebra fashion shows in the late 60’s/early 70’s. They were among the first to bring African fashion to the forefront in Seattle. They were known for sewing and modeling some of the finest original fashions around the Seattle area. If you wanted to check them out, you could find them at the Black and Tan, a popular Black nightclub that was located on 12th Avenue near Jackson Street. Fai continues to participate in the annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Day march, often accompanied by her grandchildren or other family members. Local newspapers seem to get a picture of her almost every year.

My cousin, Cece Summerrise, is a pharmacist. She worked very hard to attain her dream, enduring long days and nights studying, while still holding down her job. Cece was committed to the promise she made to her grandmother Hellyne, that she would finish school and become a pharmacist. It was not easy, but she persevered and succeeded.

My niece, Francesca Richard is a musical artist (Deb’s Daughter), record producer and songwriter in Los Angeles. She has penned songs for Uncle Charlie Wilson, and most recently she penned Johnny Gill’s new single, “Perfect”. She also wrote and performed the song “Tell Me” from the 2004 movie, Walking Tall, starring Dwayne Johnson!

My sister, Marguerite Richard is an accomplished gospel singer and soloist. She has graced the stage with gospel greats Richard Smallwood, Keith Pringle and Sandra Crouch to name a few. She was a member of several local choirs including True Destiny, FAME Choir, Northwest Connection, Washington State Mass Choir, and Hosanna. One of her first choir directors at Franklin High School was the great Pat Wright, director of the Total Experience gospel choir. Marguerite recorded the album “He Got Up” with the GMES (Gospel Music Educators Seminar) Mass Choir. She is also a civil rights activist and a member of the Black Action Network. She is known locally as Sister Pearl. Take a listen to the song “Stand Still” when you click on the link. You might hear her singing!

My daughter, Kaila Nsimbi is Director of Leadership and Career Development for Rainier Scholars, a 12-year program offering a pathway to college graduation for hard-working, low-income students of color. They provide intensive, academic preparation, leadership development and personalized support to the scholars. Her father, Gregory Davis, is a founding board member of the organization. Kaila and her husband, Ken Nsimbi, are worship leaders at Rainier Avenue Church in Seattle. They are both involved in youth ministry and church leadership. Kaila serves on the boards of The Robinson Center and Team Read. Ken serves on the boards of World Relief and New Horizons.

My son, Jerrell Davis, is a renaissance man. He is a musician, whose stage name is Rell be Free. He is also an educator and activist. He is one of the founding members of WABLOC, Washington Building Leaders of Change, an organization created to address the educational inequity of Black and Brown students in Seattle Public Schools. Jerrell performed as headlining artist for the Martin Luther King Jr. rally at Westlake Park last year. A few years ago he shared the stage with Bryan Stevenson, author of Just Mercy and founder of the Equal Justice Initiative. Jerrell performed his moving piece, “Cell Blocks Like Slave Ships”, which hauntingly depicts America as a nation moving from slavery to mass incarceration. Jerrell has studied under Marian Wright Edelman of the Children’s Fund, and helped bring the Freedom Schools model to Seattle. He is an inspiring educator and mentor at Rainier Beach high school, bringing hope to our marginalized youth.

My niece Danyelle Benware is in the veterinary research field. She is an associate scientist at Amgen. Within her department she is the clinical lead and training manager.

My great niece Asmian Obanion-White, who attends Rainer Beach High School, recently won first place in the August Wilson monologue competition at the Seattle Rep. She will go to New York in May to compete in the finals.

My great nephew Davon Fuller is a sophomore at Rainier Beach High School who has continued to excel in academics and community outreach and engagement. He works as an engagement worker with the Corner Greeter program at RBAC. He is a delightful and inspirational young Black man.

My sister- in- law Ronda Benware, along with my mother-in-law, Jeanette Davis, have faithfully served at Hamilton United Methodist Church in Los Angeles, where four generations of the Davis family have attended church. Ronda is a founding member of REST (Restore and Elevate our Spirit to Trust in God), a women’s a ministry that was developed to provide support and encouragement to women, while also inspiring them to spiritually find inner strength. Jeanette Davis has continued her leadership with the Talent Guild, which hosts the annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Luncheon and and awards financial scholarships. She retired from the Compton Unified School District, where she was an educator for many years. She is an avid reader of Black history and has encouraged her children and grandchildren to read as much as possible about Black history.

Jerry Lee Davis, my precious father-in-law was the first Black district manager of the Southern California Gas Company. He encouraged everyone to be the best they could be and he provided an excellent example of a caring husband and father.

Gregory Davis, my husband and best friend has helped create so much history. In the 1990’s he developed the Rites of Passage Experience (R.O.P.E) youth development program at C.A.M.P. He is an expert on the Rites of Passage Experience program and the Kwanzaa holiday. He has been one of the local organizers of the Kwanzaa celebration in Seattle for more than 30 years. If you need to know the seven principles of Kwanzaa, ask Gregory. He currently leads the Rainier Beach Action Coalition, an organization which has helped enhance the Rainier Beach neighborhood by focusing on critical issues that affect the wellbeing of the communities there: transportation, education, economic development, housing, food justice, public safety and the arts.

Gregory has been the epitome of a good father. In addition to unconditional love, he provided his children with a wealth of Black and African history/education by constantly exposing them to the books, art, and cultural experiences of our people. Some friends nicknamed him “The Mayor of Rainier Beach”, but he is quick to remind everyone it’s “Da Mayor” (shout out to Ossie Davis in Do the Right Thing).

As you can tell from this brief Black History tribute to my family, we are making history every day and we can’t and won’t stop. Remember the scripture at the beginning? It was Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you, to prosper and not harm you. To give you hope and a future.” The plan is for OUR hope and OUR future! Don’t ever forget it! Black History Month is Never Over! Face the Facts!

Enjoy FAX by history maker Rell be Free: