Lenora Davis

by Tanya Cromartie, photograph by Vince Bushell

Lenora Davis has a lot to smile about these days.
As the school year ends and preparation for the fall begins, her Harambee Community School family is sitting on top of the world and beaming with success. “This is the best year ever!” exclaims Lenora Davis, Chief Operating Officer at Harambee Community School since 2003. “We became a real family. This year we truly reclaimed our children, even though many of them were experiencing upheaval and were preoccupied with negative things.”
Ms. Davis believes the major catalyst for this year’s success was the vision of the school’s new principal, Mr. DeBerry and their family of teachers and staff.
It is a family that she takes every opportunity to genuinely praise during our interview.
“Our staff was able to capture the children’s attention and truly help them understand the impact of not having a good education.” she explained. But troubled times were not so long ago. She has worked for the good of the school since 1989 as a volunteer, active parent, and then a member of the board in 1992.
In 2003 she became an employee during a time of turmoil for the 39-year-old private school.
At the time she applied for the position, there was an exhaustive interview process for candidates. The school had a lot of things that weren’t working the way they should, and after a major theft they were afraid of putting the wrong person in the position.
Armed with degrees in accounting, finance, and business administration, years of finance experience, and a genuine love for the school, she accepted the board’s request that she become the new business manager. Her colleagues knew she was more than qualified and certainly committed to the long term survival of the school.
“I felt like I had weights sitting on my shoulders,” Davis admitted, her voice breaking a little. “It’s a tough thorn to know that a whole entity was dependent on the decisions I would make. And for that reason I stayed very close to God. I prayed a lot. I always will. I notice when I tell some people God is my support…they’re uncomfortable with that. But I have to tell it. Everything that has happened here at Harambee has happened because God has wanted it to happen.”
Like a proud mother, she searches through a pile of books. She shows me a picture from the yearbook with teammates smiling. “We support wrestling for the city of Milwaukee. We have all these other students from other schools coming, matter of fact we only have two kids on our wrestling team.” We share a warm laugh as she lingers at the picture of the two boys beaming with pride from the black and white page.
Although adult life has found Lenora residing in Menomonee Falls, she has remained loyal and in love with the Harambee community.
“I grew up on 16th and Meinecke, and my children are still a part of this neighborhood. Their friends are here. I always lived in the inner city until I became an adult.”
As a matter of fact, Lenora Davis has lived all over Milwaukee’s inner city. The family moved several times during her childhood. She grew up poor with her four brothers. She rejects the idea some folks have that she grew up with a “silver spoon” in her mouth. Her parents, Mary and Ruben Geary, purchased a house on 16th and Capitol when she was sixteen, and they are still there today.
“That’s my connection. I’ve always been in the community,” She is excited to explain how firmly she is rooted in Harambee. “I attended school where Malcom X Academy is now. When I went there it was called Robert Fulton Jr. High. I remember when it was built brand new. We were proud to go to a brand new school because all the other schools were so old and decrepit.” She has a daughter in eighth grade at Harambee and her son, a graduate of Harambee, will attend college in Illinois this fall.
We couldn’t avoid the question of violence. How can we turn the wave of violence in our community around? Lenora has some wisdom to share. “It is extremely disturbing… all of the hurtful things we are doing to each other. I say, let’s pull together. That is the only way we will survive this internal struggle. We need our leaders, employers, educators and families to come together. It is going to take all of us to turn this around. And please don’t forget to bring employers to the table. We know under-employment and lack of employment contributes a lot to the ills in our families. Economics plays a major role in this.”
Lenora Davis and Harambee Community School are moving full speed ahead into another great year. Her students are excited to attend a special summer school session designed to give them a jump start for fall.
“We’ve upped the ante. We’ve set standards real high because we know now they can meet them. We are going to level-set everybody this summer and take off flying in September!” she says with excitement. I tell her I will be back this summer to see what the Harambee family is up to. We exchange a sister friend hug and cell phone numbers.
As I leave the school I realize this was not like an interview at all…more like sitting on the porch talking to an old friend.

Riverwest Currents online edition – July, 2006