Don’t let Ana Davis’s quiet nature fool you. Still waters, as they say, run deep.
And once engaged in conversation, Davis’s passion for racial and social justice rises quickly to the surface. “It’s just something that’s embedded in me,” she says. It’s a remark that reveals little at first, but if one takes the time to listen to Davis’s story, her activism indeed seems all but inevitable.
Ana Davis’s family history embodies, in more ways than one, the tortured relationship our country has with race. On her father’s side, her great-grandmother was a slave in northern Louisiana, in bondage as the plantation’s midwife. Family of her mother’s father, meanwhile, fought for the Confederacy.
Born in Wichita, Davis moved to Colony at age 1 to live with her grandparents upon her mother’s tragic death. Her grandparents moved her and her three sisters to Iola when Davis was 8 years old. Now 31, she’s lived here ever since.
LIFE as a biracial girl imparted early and painful lessons for Davis.
“I quickly realized there was a void, an unacceptance of me,” she says. “That started when I was about 6 or 7. We’d go to family reunions, and I was automatically singled out. It definitely leaves you feeling less than others.”
Davis recognizes those experiences formed a part of her identity, saying, “That hurt is what sparks my passion. No one should have to feel that. We all have different stories and different backgrounds. You should love people for who they are.”
Now a mother of two boys, Brittain, 13, and Mack, 12, Davis works to ensure her children have open and frank conversations about race.
“We talk about things just like I would talk to you,” she explains. “I don’t sugarcoat things for my sons. I think that’s a dangerous game to play. Mack is a young black boy in America, and I feel he needs to know the truth. He needs to know the severity of what’s going on.”
Conversations with her children, though, also center on imparting hope. She wants her children to know that “we’re trying to make a change. We’re trying to change this. Your lives do matter.”
DAVIS sat down for an interview on June 19, known as Juneteenth, the oldest known celebration of Black emancipation. The day’s history and significance have taken on new weight this year, as amidst the recent deaths of African Americans in police custody and ensuing nationwide protests, America continues to grapple with its legacy of racism.
For Davis, the day’s importance is paramount, saying, “It is our independence day. It is when everybody in our country became free. It’s when we were allowed to become ourselves, in a sense, and break away from bondage.”
There has been increasing conversation around recognizing Juneteenth as a national holiday, a movement Davis enthusiastically supports. She also encourages more accountability for police officers, saying, “The police deserve protections like the rest of us, but officers shouldn’t be exempt from the consequences of taking a person’s life.”
WHEN DAVIS discovered Iola would hold a rally in support of Black Lives Matter, her immediate reaction was one of surprise. Upon seeing the more than 250 people gathered on the square, she says, “I wasn’t expecting that many people. That gave me so much pride, not just in my community, but in the movement. We’re reaching people. People are starting to listen.”
Recent actions, such as NASCAR’s ban of the Confederate flag from their events and several cities’ removal of Confederate monuments, have only inspired Davis to keep pushing forward. “My joy is seeing the little victories that are all adding up,” she says. “There have been a lot of small victories due to these protests, and I think that’s a really big deal. You have to start somewhere, and I think this is a good start.”
“I see so many people unifying with us,” she continues. “That brings me a lot of joy and hope. The light is starting to click on for people. They’re starting to change, be aware and empathize.”
But, Davis asserts, the work isn’t done, saying, “We need to take that support to the next level. We need to show up at city council meetings and contact our elected officials. I understand we don’t have the minority population other communities do, but it’s important we become more inclusive to the diverse communities already here.”
White people, Davis insists, play a critical role in helping secure progress for communities of color. “Right now, white people who support us are main components of making change,” she said. “Where we’re not able to be seen or heard, you are. We need you to use your platform and be vocal about this.”
For Davis, most of her efforts seem targeted at our youth. It’s almost as if she will judge this moment’s success, and her own efforts, on their ability to teach young people not to repeat the sins of our past.
“We have to reach them before the ugliness of the world does,” she says. “Our youth really do know right from wrong, and that’s a beautiful thing.”
IN IOLA, life as an African American often contains a series of contradictions for Davis. “I am a minority in a predominantly white community, so I think it’s hard not to see me,” she reflects. “But as far as being heard, I don’t think I feel heard.”
Since the death of George Floyd, “We all have felt like we are in mourning. We have felt the pain these mothers are feeling. We felt the knee on our neck. We’ve been feeling the knee on our neck.
“Being an African American in this country is a really scary thing, whether it’s just trying to get a job or whether or not your son is going to make it home. We’re on pins and needles constantly,” she said.
Such circumstances, “definitely leave you feeling sad, like you’re in mourning,” she said. “Like you’ve lost something. Like you can never fully live. And I think that’s a really hard concept to grasp on a daily basis. It hurts, it’s hard and it’s scary.”