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Fischer, Joan (ed.) / Wisconsin people & ideas
Volume 52, Number 2 (Spring 2006)

Drayton, Michele
The champ,   pp. 13-19

Page 18

richard d~vi~ 
Davis's ability to get to the essence of 
a thing carries over into his life as an 
activist. Besides his jazz and European 
classical bass courses, he teaches a 
seminar called   "Race, Racial 
Conditioning and the Oneness of 
Humankind." His final exams have 
included letter writing. One student 
wrote about relatives who bandied 
about racial epithets like hot biscuits at 
dinner. For students unwilling or unable 
to take a stand, Davis holds out hope. 
One day, perhaps, they will. 
On campus, Davis formed the 
Retention Action Project to highlight 
issues minority students face on a 
majority white campus. The Wisconsin 
State Journal had reported that some 
Midwestern corporations were 
scratching the university from its 
recruiting schedule because graduates 
lacked cultural competence. 
As for the Institute for the Healing of 
Racism, Davis was so taken after 
hearing Nathan Rutstein give a speech 
in Michigan that he assembled 40 
people to establish an institute in 
Madison. Attendees meet once a week 
for eight weeks to reflect upon and talk 
honestly about race. They might open 
up with the help of a documentary such 
as Color of Fear or the Oscar winner 
Crash. People can say what is on their 
minds, freely. Their words do not go 
farther than the meeting space, which 
18  SPRI NG  2 006  W I S C NSIN  PEOPLE  &  IDEAS 
usually is Davis's living room in 
"We started in diapers. Now we're 
wearing pants," Davis quips about the 
institute's progress. 
Some people attend with a plan to 
change other people; they themselves 
are okay, they say. "Then, by the middle 
of the eight weeks, they come to the 
realization that they have a lot of work 
to do on themselves," says institute 
board member and co-facilitator Carol 
Samuel, who teaches math and 
English as a second language at Robert 
La Follette High School in Madison, 
joined the organizing team at Labor 
Temple on South Park Street in 2001. 
"It's changed my life," Samuel says. 
"Being a facilitator was really eye- 
opening for me. I'm impressed with 
people's willingness to be really open 
and express their feelings. That has 
been a very good experience." 
She praises Davis's skills as a teacher 
and facilitator. 
"He is very patient with people. If 
people come really willing to learn, he 
does everything he can to help them," 
says Samuel. "And he studies 
constantly. Just from living life as an 
African American man, he has an 
amazing amount of experience that he 
shares very willingly with everybody." 
The first goal is to work on yourself. 
"One of the things we say is, I can only 
change myself," says Kate Marrs, co- 
facilitator of the Milwaukee group. 
"Maybe someone else can be influenced 
by observing the change in me." 
Especially promising for the insti- 
tute's future, notes Davis, is the addition 
of what he calls the "next generation" of 
facilitators. Ashley Valentine, a 27-year- 
old research scientist at UW-Madison, 
is one of them. She was drawn to learn 
more about race relations while taking a 
music class with Davis and hearing, 
through Davis and other channels, how 
the campus climate for minorities often 
is not considered welcoming. After 
participating in several sessions with 
the institute, she is now training to be a 
"It's been a very educational 
process-and an emotional education. I 
richard davie, 

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