Awakin Calls » Sheryl Davis

Sheryl Davis: Educator, Community Change Catalyst, Public Leader

Jul 14, 2018: Being a Human Bridge for Opportunity and Justice

Read: Call Transcript (Also: Nuggets From Sheryl Davis's Call)

Sheryl Evans Davis, Executive Director of the San Francisco Human Rights Commission, has provided life-changing public service and advocacy for almost thirty years through her work as leader, educator, and community engineer.

When Davis was just a child, she remembers coming home to her mother, feeling distraught by another child's behavior and wanting to do something to fix or stop it. Her mother memorably replied, "Sheryl, you can't change people. The only person you have control over is you. So... figure out what you can do that can help someone want to change." This was the start of Davis' efforts to connect people and build bridges between them in a way that creates and supports change.

When she was in middle school in West Oakland, Davis had a negative experience  of being teased by the teacher for being identified as exceptionally intelligent.  This showed her the importance of having supportive educators.

Davis worked as an educator for Schools of the Sacred Heart in the wealthy Pacific Heights district of San Francisco for almost twenty years. She recalls that in that amazing environment, everybody knew they were going to college and had incredible opportunities, but just blocks away there was a neighborhood of public housing comprised of predominantly African-American people who weren't sure if they would live to graduate high school, let alone go to college. So she volunteered her free time to teach these low-income students in the nearby Western Addition, and came to realize that the kindergarten students she was teaching at the Sacred Heart school had better computer and reading skills than high school students down the road.

Sheryl wondered what she could do to bring these communities together. She realized there were some things happening in her school that weren't happening in communities nearby. There were expectations for her students, who could see what success looked like. So the challenge became how to give other communities in the neighborhood that same kind of exposure to success and to instill in them the belief it can happen -- as well as providing bridges for the gaps that are obstacles to success, such as financial aid. In short, students needed exposure, education, and expectation.

Davis' passion for community change eventually culminated in her spearheading a collaborative partnership of organizations addressing community issues together.  She served as Executive Director of Collective Impact, a community-based organization in the Western Addition neighborhood of San Francisco. Collective Impact brings together non-profit organizations that focus on challenges facing low-income children, youth, and families in the areas of economic development, community health, and violence prevention. During her tenure at Collective Impact, Davis created private and public sector partnerships to provide critical health and social services to historically underserved communities across San Francisco. 

In her current work as the Executive Director of the San Francisco Human Rights commission, she continues her focus on increasing access, opportunity and equity for vulnerable populations.  She also has been a member of many public committees serving the San Francisco area, including the San Francisco Police Department's Fair & Impartial Policing and Community Policing Advisory Committees, Fillmore Community Benefits District, and Redevelopment Agency's Western Addition Citizen Advisory Committee. She has received numerous awards for her community work and the opportunities she has helped create for youth and community development.

She holds a BA degree from San Francisco State University and a Masters in Public Administration from the University of San Francisco.

Sheryl Davis believes we all have the power to's about "being a human bridge, making that meaningful connection, and changing someone's life, sometimes just by seeing them." 

Join us in conversation with this visionary changemaker!

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