‘Deacon’ Davis remembered

‘Deacon’ Davis remembered

By Amanda Carlson, Staff Writer

Family, friends and fans gathered at the Ethnic Heritage Museum Sunday afternoon for an exhibit honoring the life and accomplishments of McKinley “Deacon” Davis.

Davis passed away in March at the age of 70, and according to his son Randy Davis, he left behind a “boundless legacy.

When you hear of Deacon Davis, you’ll hear nothing but fond memories whether they’re athletic, social service, or as a mentor,” he said.

Guests marveled at the display, which featured items from Davis’ athletic, professional and family life, while exchanging “Deacon” stories and memories. They also shouted in unison Davis’ motto of, “I Am Somebody,” which he chanted often at meetings and speaking events.

The uniform he wore while he played at the University of Iowa hung to the right of the exhibit room. He was named second team All-American and first team All Big Ten Conference while wearing that uniform in 1954.

The red, white and blue Harlem GlobeTrotter warm-up suit he wore while on the team from 1955 to 1957 was displayed in a glass case along with a GlobeTrotter program book and old newspaper articles from his days with the team.

Guests also got a glimpse into Davis’ life off the court with a display of family photos and items from his professional life. An award from the Rockford Park District where he was recreation supervisor from 1961 to 1963, lay alongside pamphlets from his time as the executive director of Rockford’s Booker Washington Center.

At the news of Deacon’s death, museum Assistant Curator David Ruffin and other staff members approached the family with the idea of setting up an exhibit in Deacon’s honor. Ruffin said the family was open and flattered and wanted to participate.

“Mr. Davis was an outstanding civic leader for the African-American community,” Ruffin said. We thought it was our mission to give tribute to him and his accomplishments.”

A brief ceremony hosted by Ruffin featured presentations to the Davis family proving Deacon’s achievements were recognized and respected by people across the state.

Presentations were made on behalf of Gov. Rod Blagojevich from the 93rd General Assembly.

Alderman Victory Bell (D-5) announced on behalf of the city of Rockford that June 23 through July31 is Deacon Davis Month by order of Mayor Doug Scott.

The Harlem GlobeTrotters presented Davis’ family with $1,000 to go toward the McKinley Davis Sr. Foundation, a scholarship fund, which was presented by former players and friends Governor Vaughn and Tex Harrison.

Harrison recalled Davis’ love for traveling, learning about the countries and cultures he experienced while with the GlobeTrotters, and his “infectious smile that had a way of getting to you.”

Randy Davis believes Deacon’s experiences with the GlobeTrotter organization drew him to a life of serving others, which included time as the director of Washington Park Community Center, presently known as Concord Center, director of special programs and founder of Complete Help & Assistance for A College Education (CHANCE) at Northern Illinois University.

“Every city he went to, he would check out the schools to see how they were being run. That’s how he got first-hand notice that there was discrimination and inequality in the education system. I think that compelled him to go into social service,”said Randy.

Davis’ wife, Lillie thanked all who supported her husband, and spoke of the hard work her husband put into everything he did. She hopes young people will visit the exhibit which is an example of where hard work can take a person.

“There are too many youth who think they can’t achieve. No matter what, Deacon thought if you worked hard, it doesn’t mean the doors are going to be open, but you can open doors by working hard,” Lillie said.

Ruffin said he plans on contacting the school board and churches in order to expose young people to the exhibit, which will be available for viewing until July 31, the last day of Deacon Davis Month.

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