In a city where urban young people are often feared, and the accomplishments of the "good apples" are often ignored, Danae Davis contributes passion, enthusiasm and intelligence on a daily basis to help Milwaukee girls forge ahead, one teen at a time.
Davis is the executive director for PEARLS for Teen Girls Inc., a role she's happily secured since Jan. 17, 2006. PEARLS' mission is to help girls, especially those facing the challenges of poverty, "to envision their personal potential, take meaningful action and direct the course of their own lives."
Davis, a graduated of UW-Oshkosh and the University of Wisconsin's law school, is the former executive director for diversity affairs for Miller Brewing Co., director of diversity management and work-live balance for Kraft Foods, the director of employee relations and chief labor negotiator for the City of Milwaukee; and served on the Governor's Legal Counsel before joining PEARLS.
OnMilwaukee.com is honored to kick back with Davis and talk to her about her group, her vision and the future of urban Milwaukee.
OnMilwaukee.com: What do you love about working with PEARLS?
Danae Davis: Being the executive leader for our organization feeds my soul in so many ways. First, I can see, feel and touch the difference we make with this population of girls ages 11-18 every day! Though our PEARLS programming occurs at 13 sites, none of which are at our home office (located at 2100 N. Palmer St. in Brewer's Hill), girls come through here every day. Either our teen facilitators or other PEARLS girls treat our office as a safe haven for fellowship, planning, girl stuff, mentoring, commiseration, etc. I get to experience them and their ups and downs every day.
Second, the feedback from the girls, their teachers, parents and others is extremely positive. The positive difference our program makes in the lives of hundreds of girls shows. Because of the unique goal-setting process we get tangible evidence of the girls accomplishments. I am inspired by these girls, when there is so much negative press about our teens in Milwaukee.
Third, we have an awesome and dedicated staff! I love their gift of reaching these girls where they are. I admire and learn from them.
OMC: What is the demographic of girls involved in your group? And what exactly do they learn from PEARLS?
DD: About 90 percent are African American and the remaining girls are Latina. We help them develop skills and ways of addressing self esteem and relationship issues; improving their academic performance through graduation and admittance to college; engaging in community service activities -- among many other things.
OMC: What have been some of your greatest successes since joining PEARLS?
DD: Of the 401 girls that were served by PEARLS in 2006, 99.7 percent of them did not get pregnant. 100 percent of our seniors graduated from high school at the end of the 2005-06 school year and 75 percent of them were admitted to college!
When I think about accomplishments I mainly think in terms of the girls. But it is also important to note the benefit of providing a wider opportunity for more girls to gain exposure and awareness of PEARLS through the significant growth in the number of partnership sites. We grew from 6 to 13 sites in one year! PEARLS programming occurred at Notre Dame Middle school, Fitzsimonds Boys and Girls Club, Milwaukee Academy of Science, Washington High School, Lincoln Center for the Arts Middle School, Northside and Holton YMCA, Academy of Learning and Leadership, St Joan Antida High School, Townsend School, Heartlove Place, Keefe Avenue School and the Business, Economic Academy of Milwaukee. Most of these schools and agencies had little to no girl-centered programming until PEARLS.
OMC: Can you give a specific example of a girl who was helped by PEARLS.
DD: I'll give two examples. First, let me tell Latavia's story. Latavia is 15 and a sophomore at Milwaukee Academy of Science High School. She has been a PEARLS girl for four years since the 7th grade. She is the middle child of a single mother of four and lives in the central city of Milwaukee. As she has often said, "I live in the ghetto, but the ghetto is not in me."
Latavia has continued to blossom as a young lady and is very smart in school. Her problem has been having a bad attitude and exhibiting anger tendencies. In the past she "acted out" because she resented the amount of time her mother spent away from home -- working sometimes two jobs. The bright light for her during her adolescent period has been PEARLS and her PEARLS family. Recently, when asked about what PEARLS has meant to her, Latavia talked about the closeness of her friendships with her PEARLS sisters, the nurturing staff support and the things that she has been exposed to like the annual college tour. She also talked about her relationship with her mother and the fact that it is so much better today.
Latavia has significantly improved her attitude and her ability to deal with people or situations she doesn't agree with. Rarely is she angry and more and more she laughs and smiles. Her confidence radiates from her whether she is talking with friends or adults. Latavia plans to go to college and we're confident she will!
Our second example is Nichelle. Nichelle is the middle child of three girls with two very engaged parents. She also lives in the central city. Her older sister, also a former PEARLS girl and current PEARLS teen facilitator (as is Nichelle), is a freshman student at Alverno College. Nichelle is a junior at Riverside High School and has been involved with PEARLS since her freshman year.
In terms of what PEARLS has meant to her, she says "PEARLS has helped me become stronger as a person ... It's instilled in me so many qualities and to be a role model and set goals at my own pace for work, school or home." PEARLS has also helped her find a college by virtue of her going on the PEARLS college tour last year. She maintains an above 3.0 average and currently plans to attend Hampton University in Virginia. Nichelle has a gentle elegance to her and the middle school age girls glow when they are around her as she facilitates their groups. She is an excellent role model.
I could go on an on about these two young ladies and other PEARLS girls. Each girl is truly precious and unique and come from all spectrums of life. This really makes my heart sing!
OMC: So, what do you like to do in your free time?
DD: I love to read, listen to music (R&B mostly,) watch the NBA playoffs, watch favorite TV programs, travel (especially with my close SONO friends, AKA "South of North Avenue"). I also treasure the time spent keeping up with my family (Davis has a 19-year-old son attending college out-of-state).
OMC: In your opinion, does the future of Milwaukee look positive or negative to you? Why?
DD: Well, as I write this response I am saddened by the drive-by murder of a 4-year-old girl and it's hard to be positive. I really choose to be the optimist so when I think of our PEARLS girls, the next generation of leaders, I can see a positive future for Milwaukee. Most of our girls will likely stay or return to Milwaukee and if they do, they will be successful and so will their families. Notwithstanding being optimistic, Milwaukee will have to have a mind and paradigm shift towards being a welcoming city for all in order for the future to be bright. Absent significant change in this regard, the future will be a challenge for many. We have all the attributes and resources (water, land, seasons, people) to be a wonderful place to live, but all must share and prosper for a truly positive future.
OMC: Why are there so many young girls in need of an organization like PEARLS?
DD: Actually, it is a good thing that so many girls need a PEARLS experience because it is the nurturing, team building, positive role modeling features of PEARLS that makes it special. We are so pleased to be about making this resource available to girls who might otherwise not get it. So many of us adults, especially "successful" women had someone in our lives who inspired us and who believed that we could be anything we set out to be. For these girls, PEARLS is there for them for the same benefits and reasons.
OMC: If you had one wish granted for your group, what would it be?
DD: If I had one wish from "the genie" it would be that the funding community --public and private -- was persuaded that once you discover a "good thing" or program that is truly making a positive difference and represents systemic and sustainable depth, you commit the resources necessary for those organizations to thrive, grow, expand and be replicated. PEARLS and other non-profit organizations have to spend way too much time repeating "the ask" when the results speak for themselves.
Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.
Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.