Davis spent most of his childhood abroad, following his parents who worked in the United States Foreign Service. His diverse international education was crucial in shaping his views on race.
“I was literally living about 12 to 15 years into the future.”
While Davis was in class with children from all over the world, schools in the U.S. were only beginning to desegregate. When he returned to the states, race relations were the last thing on his mind.
“When I experienced racism here in my own country, I was not prepared for it. I had never heard the word racism.”
Davis was one of two black children in his new school. When his friends got him to join the Cub Scouts, he was the only black scout. In 1968, during a statewide Boy Scout march to celebrate the ride of Paul Revere, Davis was chosen to carry the American Flag at the head of his troupe. When people in the crowd started to throw bottles and rocks at him, his first thought was “oh, these people over there don’t like the scouts.” It was only when his troop members and leaders started blocking him from the debris with their bodies that he realized he was the only person being targeted.
His parents explained racism to him for the first time that day. Davis couldn’t comprehend why someone would hate him for such a strange reason.
“I literally thought they were liars, because I could not understand how anyone who had never seen me, who had never spoken to me, who knew nothing about me, would want to cause me harm, just because of the color of my skin.”
And so began a lifelong quest to answer one question: How can you hate me if you don’t even know me?