Long Time EJ Leader Wants to Leave Legacy for the Next Generation—“Do something for our people!”

Long Time EJ Leader Wants to Leave Legacy for the Next Generation—“Do something for our people!”

Rev. Dr. Kenneth Davis Promotes EJ Scholarship

By: Rev. Harry D. Gatewood, III, MDiv

May 12, 2022


Environmental and economic justice have been front of mind for Rev. Kenneth Davis since he matriculated at the University of Chicago in 1961. Overworked, underpaid, underestimated, and disenfranchised, early experiences cultivated within him the drive to fight racism and environmental injustice which sustains him to this day.


While attending university, he worked the night shift as an orderly at Michael Reese Hospital from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m., then would go directly from work to school at 8 o’clock in the morning. “There were days I would want a hamburger so bad, I could cry,” Davis shared. “I remember having to borrow or share a book with someone because I couldn’t afford it.” 


Dr. Davis comes from a lineage of clergy. His maternal grandfather was the pastor of St. John AME of Chicago and his paternal grandfather organized six churches in Argo, Illinois, in a range of denominations. Dr. Davis accepted his call to ministry under Rev. Fredrick Haynes, Sr., in 1975 at Third Baptist Church of San Francisco. 


A long-time leader in the social and environmental justice movements, Dr. Davis was later graced with an honorary Doctorate Degree from Florida Theological Seminary in recognition of these contributions. Dr. Davis worked with civil rights icons Rev. C.T. Vivian and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and trailblazing boxer Joe Louis, whom he met—and learned from—while working as the first Black golf caddie in Chicago. 


Dr. Davis was instrumental in bringing Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sr., from South Carolina to Chicago via Operation Breadbasket, an initiative of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). This project was focused on improving economic conditions for Black communities and spearheading boycotts of companies that did not support Black community goals.


Dr. Davis is also well known for taking on oil giant Chevron. In 2010, he engaged in protests around unethical practices that had caused large-scale pollution in an Ecuadorian oil patch. Plaintiffs in that case filed a $27 billion lawsuit


In 2012, the impacts of Chevron’s negligence and the absence of environmental oversight hit close to home for Dr. Davis. A large fire caused by corroded pipes dispersed pollutants and particulates broke out in the company’s Richmond, California refinery, near Dr. Davis’ home. 


This man-made tragedy required the institution of shelter-in-place order and resulted in thousands of local residents seeking treatment for respiratory problems. Chevron was sued for “willful and conscious disregard for public safety” and the corporation was ordered to pay $2 million as part of a plea deal with state and county prosecutors. Dr. Davis noted ruefully, “I haven’t seen a dime of that money” help the community.


Dr. Davis is now looking at ways to make even more  of a difference for future generations. 


He has established the Dr. Kenneth Davis Scholarship Fund “for people who are dedicated to taking care of this Earth.” He reached out to Green The Church to partner on this because of GTC’s unique mission and work at the intersection of the African American Church and the environmental movement.


Dr. Davis’ goal is to provide a scholarship each year to a deserving student. “They can be in agriculture, seminary [with an EJ focus], biology, engineering, chemistry… degree field does not matter as long as it’s STEMA [science, technology, engineering, mathematics, agriculture] related. What matters is their desire to follow my mantra, ‘My goal in life is to leave this place a better place than I found it.’”


The application will be open to young people of color who can demonstrate their active engagement with environmental justice and proof of active employment. Students must have a financial need, be enrolled in a college or university, and be determined to make our world a better place through advocating and implementing fair and equitable enforcement of environmental laws, regulations and policies.


He invites others to contribute to the scholarship fund to support STEMA students of color.  Dr. Davis expressed his hope that members of Green The Church and of the Black Church will stop focusing on having “$150 to $250,000 in a savings account and help the people! Why do we need to have that much money in a bank that won’t loan or do business with our people? Do something for our people! A building fund… What the hell is a building? The people are the church.” (Dr. Davis went on to apologize for his language.) “Lord help me,” he said.


“We do enough about teaching people how to die. Let’s teach people how to live,” said Dr. Davis.


Dr. Davis understands that we’re living in difficult times, but feels that generosity is a powerful tool that can make a positive change in the lives of others and is a fundamental value anyone can act on. If you and your ministry have a heart to do something for our people, please consider contributing to the Dr. Kenneth Davis Scholarship Fund. Feel free to contact [email protected] with questions.