Educating children runs in Davis family

Photo by Casey Dixon

Photo by Casey Dixon

ALBANY, Ga. -- It was a moment that Stephen Davis still remembers clearly to this day.

As the second-youngest son of John I. Jr. and Iris Davis, Stephen said his father always used every moment as a teachable one.

But this particular incident spoke volumes as to the importance of education and staying in school, principles his parents constantly instilled in their five sons.

"I remember when we were young, my dad had a frame on the piano and in the frame were the words 'Education pays.' I think it was a news article. Inside the frame, was a $1 bill," said Stephen Davis, 34, the reigning DCSS Teacher of the Year for his work as a fifth-grade math teacher at Lamar Reese Magnet School of the Arts.

"We were probably in grade school and someone broke in the house and stole all the meat in the freezer, and in the alleyway behind the house was the picture frame with the dollar stolen," Davis said. "It was kind of spooky because some neighbors saw the kids running down the alley with a suitcase of meat. My dad said we knew the kids. They broke in during the school day. And you see the irony in 'education pays' and how you get out of poverty."

Stephen, older brother Vinson and youngest brother John III all work as educators in the Dougherty County School System. They join their father, who's entering his fifth year as the principal at the district's alternative school, the South Georgia Regional Achievement Center.

Vinson Davis, 36, recently was named the new principal for Radium Springs Middle School. John Davis III, 29, is an instructional specialist who splits his time this year between Jackson Heights, Morningside and West Town elementary schools to help struggling third- to fifth-grade students with their math. Their mother, Iris, retired seven years ago from Westover Comprehensive High School as a 31-year educator.

John I. Davis Jr. and Iris' two oldest sons, Patrick, 42, and Stanley, 37, don't live in Albany and aren't in the education field. Patrick works in Atlanta as a banker, and Stanley resides in St. Louis and is a regional manager of a pharmaceutical company.

As a result of the three youngest sons working for the Dougherty County School System, Vinson Davis said discussions at Sunday family lunches after church can turn quite lively. In fact, the competitive fire that each of them exudes causes the boys to almost prove themselves at family get-togethers, Stephen said.

"Now when we get together around our parents' house, the talk is education," said Vinson Davis, who with his wife Chianti has two daughters, Ashlyn, 14, and Aubrana, 9. "John (III)'s talking from a central office perspective; Steve talks from a classroom perspective; I talk from an administrative perspective, and Dad talks from the wisdom of being in the trenches from many, many experiences."

John Davis III said education was always held highly in the Davis family. Not surprisingly, both parents hold doctorate degrees, as does John III, and Stephen Davis said he's nearing completing his as well from Capella University. Vinson Davis holds a master's degree from Albany State University.

"We didn't know it as kids," said John Davis III, who with wife Raymonica has a daughter, Joniyah, 3. "We'd do competition reading. (Dad would) time how long you could go without stumbling over a word or saying 'um.' We'd call it fluent reading. He would pay us for making honor roll, and you'd get more for getting all A's. I remember a guy challenging that practice and Dad said, 'Either you can pay now or you can pay for it later.' I remember through high school -- now don't laugh -- making sure I did enough to make honor roll. That was a motivator."

Vinson Davis also fondly remembers all the sibling rivalry been the brothers and how everything was fair game.

"We were really competitive," he said. "We'd have a competition over who could make the bed best, ride the bike fastest, who could have the most waves in their hair and it was healthy competition."

Besides academics, all five Davis sons were talented athletes as each earned college athletic scholarships. In fact, every year Westover's boys basketball won a state title, a Davis was on the team. Their father, John Davis Jr., said his sons were on the varsity team for 15 straight years and helped the Patriots win six state titles under the late coach Willie Boston. John Davis III said athletics, in some ways, has helped each of them in their careers to push themselves and set goals.

"We all bring to education a sense of athleticism," he said. "By being athletes, you have to practice hard, you work hard and you perform well. That's what athletes do, and that's what we bring to our educational environment. We work late, study hard, research a lot and perform well."

And although the sons have always been competitive, they learned early on to make sure that they treated each other fairly.

"One of the first things we understood was the word fairness," Vinson Davis said. "Not all children are chastised, motivated and celebrated the same. We really learned that growing up ... that everyone is different. For me, you can talk to me really strong, but for some of my brothers Dad really had to, perhaps, shake them or really discipline them."

Vinson Davis said he and his brothers also learned about respecting each other at a young age.

"Everyone in my family was respected, even if Little John was the littlest and we could've stole his PB&J sandwich," he said. "But, he had a voice, too. Wherever I am, I carry that everyone has a voice and deserves respect."

Being fair and not allowing others to compare the brothers to each other was deliberate, said father John I. Davis Jr.

"One thing we never did was compare them," said Davis, a 43-year educator who logged 25 years at Albany State. "Each one competed against themselves to be the best that they could be, and we wouldn't let anyone else compare them because we learned early not to do that. I'm not offering a recipe for raising boys; all I'm saying is that these are the things we did and how they turned out.

"Once they reached adult lives, we choose to stay out of the business," said Davis, who co-pastors Greater Faith Harvest Ministries with his wife. "We taught them how to fly, but we didn't have them come back and say, 'Let me adjust your wings.' Their personal lives, their marriages, if you stay out of it they'll work it out for themselves instead of getting drawn into it."

Being around education as youngsters as their father coached basketball at Albany State also contributed to the boys' eventual careers in education.

"I think Dad's always been an educator and so was Mom, so you gravitate to what you know best," said Stephen Davis, who is the only Davis son that remains single. "Just being around Albany State as young boys, it'd be hard not to see the value of what mom and dad did for people and how much the people appreciated the gifts from mom and dad in the educational setting."

John I. Davis Jr. said he was encouraged early on during his time at Albany State to spend as much time with his children as possible.

"I was told from Ph.D. educators who were 30 years my senior when the boys were 4, 5, 6 years old, whatever you do make sure you're spending as much time with your own kids as you do with everyone else's," said Davis, who was Monroe's principal in the late '90s following assistant principal stints at Merry Acres Middle and Westover. "The kids would pack their bags and go to every game with me at ASU (and on the road). Children are supposed to wear their parents out, and if they don't they'll wear someone else out.

"I didn't have time for the social life, the weekend life, the hunting life with my peers because I spent a lot of time with my boys, and they grew up on the Albany State campus," he added. "By growing up on that campus, they had access to all the sports activities on a college campus. They went swimming when they wanted to, played tennis, track and basketball. I remember those (ASU) students helping them in the stands with their homework. They had everything a child was supposed to have since their birth. I allowed them to have other people invest in them. It takes a village to raise a child, and I allowed coaches, both men and women, to correct them when they did wrong."

When their sons were home, John Davis Jr. said their mother taught them biblical skills, which also contributed to her sons' successes. However, Iris Davis is quick to note that her sons' achievements didn't come overnight or without hard work.

"We're having glory now, but it was a whole lot (of effort) in getting there," said Iris Davis, who met her future husband of 43 years at a church John Jr.'s father was pastoring. "The story behind the glory is family structure. Following principles in concepts and values based in Scripture, and we always tried to instill in them that we don't make excuses in what we have or had and such of what we had we would be thankful. That would become a saying in our house.

"A lot comes from the foundation, the training, the educating, the praying, driving in the car and just taking all the teachable moments," she continued. "Everything that came about that would allow them to be boys and be connected to the community. We always put them in things, not thinking about keeping them out of trouble, but just keeping them busy. They did NYSP (National Youth Sports Program), AAU track, summer school computer classes, doing yards and creating little jobs to get some kind of money. We had no idea where they'd be now, we just wanted them to be successful and give back to the community. We just feel blessed to have them come back to the city of Albany and working hard and contributing to the city to its glory."

Lamar Reese Principal Valerie Thomas has known the Davis family for more than 35 years. The school's eight-year principal taught Vinson and Stanley Davis at Westover, had Vinson Davis as an assistant principal, encouraged John Davis III to work in the school system and currently oversees Stephen Davis.

"John (III) came by just to get lunch (with Vinson) and I put him to work, and Stephen came by for lunch and I put him to work," Thomas said with a chuckle. "If I see that you have the potential to work with my children and make a difference in children's lives, I'm putting you to work."

Thomas sees the Davises' sons as "great role models for people who have male sons."

"I have to first of all give credit to their parents," she said. "To raise five boys to be successful is an accolade to their efforts. They're a role model to other parents in the community, like me since I have a son. I try to have them mentor my son as well because they have good character traits. They all have a solid Christian foundation because both their father and mother are ordained ministers, and also John III. They're also musicians and all play more than one instrument.

"And, they all have the same sense of humor," she added. "They get that sense of humor from their dad."