Charity Davidson and Teach For America-Detroit Breaks Down Socioeconomic Barriers

The org utilizes a network of teachers to provide education, support and opportunity for students.

Charity Davidson

Born in Georgia and the daughter of a preacher, Charity Davidson came to understand income differences on a very personal level. Because they moved around a lot, Davidson had lived in locations as varied as Jacksonville, Florida, Flint and later, Wayne, Michigan – and each carried its own lesson.

“Like a lot of preacher’s families, we lived in the parsonage connected to the church,” Davidson says. “The community was varied from lower income to higher income, depending on where my father was working at the time. Early on in my life … I got to see there was a difference in what you got from school based on where you live.”

By the time she reached the University of Michigan, where she majored in political science with a minor in African and Afro-American history, certain ideologies were beginning to form and shape her evolving thought. She says. “I didn’t plan to be a teacher. I wanted to become a lawyer and wanted to deal with constitutional law.”

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While in school – during her sophomore year – she co-founded an organization called Intellectual Minds Making a Difference, whose purpose was to help students improve their SAT and ACT scores. These were students of color who met the GPA requirement of “U-M”, but fell short in standardized testing.

“We spent our weekends in Detroit,” Davidson says. “We tutored and prepped them. That’s what led me to Teach for America.” She landed her position with Teach For America–Detroit in 2014 after having spent time as a middle school teacher, including two years as a founding principal of University YES Academy, where she really began to recognize the need for talent.

“One of my biggest struggles as a principal was I couldn’t find talent quick enough to give (the students) what they deserved,” Davidson says. “Teach for America was one of my biggest talent pools. I wanted to be a part of the organization to make sure that the quality of those teachers is the highest quality possible.”

Teach For America’s mission is to provide “education, support, and opportunity,” according its website. The organization strives to help students by utilizing a network of teachers who are “working in partnership with communities to improve education and expand opportunity for children.”

The local chapters, such as the one in Detroit, seek to bring educational opportunity straight up from the grassroots. This aligns with Davidson’s own teaching philosophy and worldview. Having taught minority students of Latino heritage back in Houston, Texas (her first job away from home), Davidson learned that not all minority experiences were alike – it taught her how to relate on another level entirely.

“I was reminded (that) your experience is your experience but that doesn’t tell the story of every minority in this country,” she adds. In Detroit, she sees similar disparities that are apparent around the country, including the lack of resources and good teachers who can inspire the next generation to create, as she puts it, “systemic change.”

The former teacher of English language arts and U.S. history views Detroit as right on target for the type of change necessary to really make a difference. “There are assets that exist in this community,” Davidson says. “We are not the solution to the problem – we are coming to join forces with others. Together, we can be a better solution.”

By bringing “culturally responsive educators” to the city, as senior managing director, she hopes to use her voice for those “who don’t have a voice.” This goes straight back to her childhood as a preacher’s daughter. “Your life should be a service,” she says. “Other people should be benefitting because of what it is you accomplished.”

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