“We help take the resources to the communities that need them the most.” – Anthony Davis Jr.

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Politics can be an undeniably powerful tool for instilling change in disadvantaged communities. One individual who knows this all too well is Anthony Davis Jr, political strategist and founder and CEO of The Davis System, a Boston-based social impact firm which serves “at the intersection of community organising and community philanthropy”. Davis manages a team of five and runs the business alongside his wife, Erin, who is COO.

The firm provides its clients with services such as political and community organising, project management and training and coaching, equipping them with the skills to engage minority communities such as African Americans, Asian Americans, Hispanic Americans and indigenous peoples. The company also works with government officials, and public institutions to ensure that programmes and resources “go to the communities that need them the most”. Davis says, “There’d be this great programme but the black and brown and low-income communities that we need to take advantage of it don’t know about it. We help them take the resources to the people.”

“Minority communities as a whole mean a lot to me. Folks from immigrant backgrounds and from across the African diaspora mean a lot to me. My hope for the future is that we can unite these communities in a way that helps us combat white supremacy,” says Davis, who recently made it on Boston Magazine’s list of the 150 Most Influential Bostonians .“I don’t do the work that I do to be honoured, but I do recognise that the work that I do is necessary. There aren’t a lot of people who look like me who do this, especially in Boston,” he says.

Davis was described by the magazine as “the secret weapon of recent political campaigns” due to the key role he played in running Michelle Wu’s successful 2021 mayoral campaign, as well as the campaigns of Governor Maura Healey, the first openly lesbian governor in US history, and Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, Massachusetts’ first ever Black congresswoman. He was also recognised for his success in organising events such as the citywide NAACP Day of Action & Service last summer.

The thing Davis “appreciates the most” about making the list of the 150 Most Influential Bostonians at just 30 years old – and being among some the youngest to do so – is that it reassures him that he is “in the right space”. “It’s confirmation that something that I followed as a passion has now turned into a business that’s had an impact,” he says. Quoting Ayanna Presley, he says, with a tone of admiration: “She always used to say that the people closest to the pain should be closest to the power.” This, he says, is why he is dedicated to campaigning for leaders who can give a voice to the most voiceless in American society.

The journey to get to this point hasn’t always been smooth. Davis recalls how growing up in Prince George’s County – which, until recently, was notable for being the wealthiest majority-Black county in the US – had its pros and cons.

‘We help take the resources to the communities that need them the most’ pointed out Anthony Davis Jr.

On one hand, living in what he dubs “a black oasis” gave him the chance to see “Black success” all around. “I saw Black doctors, Black lawyers, Black teachers, even Black police officers and police chiefs”, he says, noting that “a lot of Black folks in America” don’t have the privilege of living in an environment where they’re “allowed to be proud of [their] blackness”, whereas this sense of pride was “ingrained” in him from early on.

On the other hand, he says, growing up “in the most affluent African American county in the country can cause a bit of trauma for a kid who’s not one of the most affluent people”. “There were a lot of comparisons to friends and folks who lived in the community,” he adds. 

When Davis was a child, his family lost their home after “falling victim” to a housing crisis in Maryland that saw black families being “leeched on” and “given loans with bad terms”. The crisis, he says, was partly a result of failures in government, and further lessened the confidence his already apolitical family had in politics. Nonetheless, the influence of government could have on the lives of people “intrigued” him at the time.

However, Davis hadn’t truly discovered his passion for using political organising until he studied at the historically Black Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia, which is known for being the alma mater of distinguished African Americans such as civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr, philosopher Howard Thurman and filmmaker Spike Lee. His time at Morehouse “awakened [his] consciousness” and changed his vision of how he “wanted to impact the world”. “I spent a lot of time, both on campus and outside of campus, doing community organising within the Atlanta community. But also, studying and understanding the historical movements that had happened on campus, including student movements in the civil rights movement,” he says.

After graduating from Morehouse College and struggling to find a job, Davis took on a role in the Youth and College Division at the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People), which made him reconsider his dream of becoming a sports journalist. Upon returning to the NAACP after a seven-week reporting internship at the Little League World Series of Baseball, he grew certain that political campaigning was the job for him, admitting that he “enjoyed the thrill of competing every day”. He says, “Those first two to three months on that job at the NAACP completely rerouted my career. That was another affirming moment that the work I was doing was much more impactful for me personally.”

During his time at the NAACP, where he mobilised minority voters to vote in the 2016 elections, Davis had two additional learnings. The first was that the role cemented his position as a Democrat, so much so that he says he “remembers crying” when Hillary Clinton lost to Donald Trump. Second, he came to realise the importance of young people being involved in political campaigns. 

Subsequently, Davis went on to take part in numerous campaigns over the years, in the states of Alabama, Georgia and Maryland, where he grew up. He says: “One of the things that I didn’t understand earlier in my career that I learned later is that campaigns have a deadline. Election Day is the end. And so, either you have another job lined up or you are looking for the next job in between.”

Having to deal with constant uncertainty about where his next paycheck would come from led to him making “rushed decisions” instead of waiting for “for the right campaign” to come along. He recalls going to the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia to work on a door-to-door campaign for a “doubly difficult” congressional race. When he knocked on the door of one voter, he had a shotgun pulled on him and was called a racial slur. When he called his supervisor, a white woman, he says he remembers “having to almost negotiate to just take the rest of the day off”, because she lacked the cultural sensitivity to “understand how it made [him] feel].” This experience taught him the importance of “having Black allies” who can “validate your experience” when working in politics.

Throughout his career as a self-described “political mercenary”, Davis has had bouts of unemployment in between campaigns, which he says has been a “common theme in his story” until he founded The Davis System. However, when he wins, he wins big, helping run campaigns that have led to the election of not one, but two firsts in Boston’s political history. “There’s a thread of me losing and becoming unemployed, but every time I win, it’s like a historic victory,” he notes.

When The Davis System secured the contract to organise the NAACP Day of Action & Service  Davis said it felt like a “full circle” experience because it allowed him to “almost go back to where everything started”.

What does the future hold for Davis? Plans for nationwide expansion, it seems. He says, “I envision our business having more of a national impact. I would love for us to have a presence in the South.”

Estelle Uba

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