The Honorable Brian J. Davis took time to share insights on the systems that affect our community and the pathways that lead to his philanthropy in an interview with Caroline Brinton ‘10 for this month’s Weaver Philanthropic Initiative (WPI) Alumni Network newsletter.
Judge Davis is a United States District Court Judge for the Middle District of Florida and an active civic leader throughout Northeast Florida. Judge Davis joined the Board of Trustees of The Community Foundation for Northeast Florida (TCF) in 2014. He currently serves on the Program & Initiatives and Governance Committees and previously served on the Strategic Planning Committee.
Judge Davis is Chair of the Jacksonville Public Education Fund and recently concluded his service leading the Education subcommittee on The Juvenile Justice Advisory Committee.
Some of his philanthropic and civic endeavors include: TCF’S Forum for Quality Education, JCCI’s Study on Race Relations, Leadership Jacksonville, NCCJ, Urban League, NAACP, Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Jacksonville Community Council, Hubbard House, Help Center, PACE Center for Girls, OneJax, the Jaguars Foundation, Boy Scouts of America, and chairing the Mayor’s Domestic Violence Task Force in 1999.
Q: What do you do in your daily life?
A: I strive to do and pray for justice in my daily life. As a judge, I am responsible for resolving disputes among individual and corporate members of our community consistent with rules by which we have all agreed to be governed. It is interesting and difficult, but rewarding work. I spend every day of my life loving and thankfully being loved by family and friends, including a wife, two children, and five grandchildren.
Q: Whom do you consider to be your role models for giving?
A: I have been fortunate to have an array of “giving” role models. My mother and father had little in the way of finances to give but, sacrificed to support our church monetarily. Their philanthropy took the form of giving time, particularly to the elderly and ill. As a child and young adult, I admired the giving of Mrs. Eartha M. M. White, a community steward, Dr. Charles McIntosh, a local physician, Dr. Wendell Holmes, a local mortician, Earl Johnson, a local attorney, and J. J. Daniel, a local businessman and co-founder of The Community Foundation. They each gave the community the gifts of their treasure, their talent, and their time.
Q: What social and historical events have influenced your giving?
A: Like most, I am moved by the suffering occasioned by natural disasters. My giving has been influenced by my socialization, by my upbringing, if you will. I came to realize as a child just how fortunate I was to have the guidance, support, and love of caring adults. Through family, I came to spend time in just about every then racially segregated playground in Jacksonville. It was there that I realized just how many children did not have the nurtured life I experienced. As I grew, I came to understand that but for the efforts of families and other caring adults, children anywhere and everywhere could and would languish. That experience more than anything I think fostered my philanthropic preference to support the protection, growth, and development of children.
Q: Do you tend to favor contributing any particular combination of social, moral, intellectual, reputational, or financial capital in your philanthropy? If so, why?
A: I do not favor contributing any single or particular combination of philanthropy. Rather because I have seen and benefited from the contribution of social, moral, intellectual, reputational, and financial capital, I favor contributing from all when I possess sufficient quantities and the ability to share. I believe this broader philanthropic strategy to be best because the needs of individuals and our community are such that contributions of each can be extraordinarily useful depending on the character, timing, and quality of the need.
Q: How has your service on the bench informed and enhanced your role as a philanthropist?
A: The bench is probably the most informative vantage point of our community’s needs. From it, both the problems of our community and the causes of those problems are brought sharply into focus. The consequences of individual and institutional misfeasance and malfeasance are revealed by the problems brought to the Court’s attention for solution. The ability to see, hear, and feel human needs and problems assists in determining the severity and urgency of issues which then helps inform my philanthropy. My experience on the juvenile bench was particularly disturbing and helpful in this regard.
Q: What Northeast Florida challenges keep you up at night?
A: Our community’s failure to educate large numbers of children sufficiently to help them overcome the hardships and negative consequences of poverty bothers me tremendously. Those failures have generational consequences which, unless meaningfully checked, will result in huge numbers of our citizens being unfulfilled, unproductive, and ultimately unhealthy physically and mentally. The avoidable cost and consequences of these failures will continue to cause our community to be a place that fails to thrive.
Q: As of January 1, 2019, you are the Chair of the Jacksonville Public Education Fund (JPEF). As a Jacksonville native and graduate of the Duval Public School system, what JPEF work are you most excited about in the coming years?
A: I am thrilled that the group of community stewards and experts comprising the board and staff of JPEF have chosen school leadership as a focus of its work. There is not a successful human endeavor that has not been the result of strong, dynamic, energized leadership. JPEF’s work to empower school leaders, particularly principals and particularly in the neighborhoods of children and parents who have suffered the ravages of poverty is most exciting to me. That work has the ability to leverage our educational resources in a way that can meaningfully enhance our community’s resources. For the work to be successful, it is important that the community embrace and support the effort with sufficient financial and human capital. The board, staff, and supporters of JPEF are committed to working to build and keep exceptional leaders in our schools.
Q: How do you use The Community Foundation for Northeast Florida as a resource for your philanthropy?
A: The Community Foundation teaches the wisdom of allowing your head to lead your heart. I have become a much more intelligent giver since my association with The Community Foundation. I have learned the prudence of assuring both the leadership strength and stability of philanthropic efforts before giving and that assisting in the achievement of those things can be philanthropically rewarding in and of itself. I have learned that systemic impact is better achieved through collective and sustained efforts. While I still believe that a single instance of individual giving can and does change lives my philanthropy through The Community Foundation has become more regular, more targeted and I think more likely to have a greater impact.
Q: What have been your most significant learning “aha moments” about building a stronger community?
A: Through my associations and work, I have come to believe that both our efforts and our results are both stronger and smarter when we are truly diverse.