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Meet Hasan Davis
"At the end of the day, the ability to read is power. It is a chance to make sure you do not accept anything less than what you are going for. It is the first really big step." - Hasan Davis
Hasan Davis is a youth and arts advocate, performer, and lawyer. As founder of Empowerment Solutions, he helps young people and adults find their voice, sense of personal power, self-respect, and dignity. As he works with young people, he often asks them to write a bio poem—an 11-line poem about who they are in relation to others, their fears, their dreams, and three things they would like the world to say about them that would really be true.
By that time, I had joined a street gang. When others looked at me, they saw a menace to society. I grew up angry and in conflict because I didn't think there was a reason to be in school and learn. I thought it was all a set up.
Today, I have a GED, a college degree, and a law degree. I travel the country with Empowerment Solutions-a company I founded in 1998 to empower people and communities. I have the privilege of using my passion for theatre to help others connect with African-American characters from the past. I also help others through my work on numerous boards and commissions. Perhaps most importantly, I know that the person on top of the mountain did not fall there. I also know that the only people we cannot reach are those people we refuse to reach.
Still, the road from my youthful conflicts to my current success was a rocky one. Through it all, my mother remained my champion. She kept saying, "That's not who you are Hasan, you need to find out what the rest of you is about. You have to find out before you can move forward."
She encouraged me to pursue my GED. A friend of mine named Derrick and I signed up to take the test together. We were both headstrong and streetwise and decided we were going to do it. We looked at the people hanging out on the corners and knew that was a place we clearly didn't want to be, a place we could wind up without an education. When the results came back, I found out I was in the 90th percentile. That helped me believe that I wasn't the negative things people said I was. Receiving my GED was a crossroads for me. I was still struggling, but I really wanted to make it, and for the first time ever, I believed it was possible.
I applied for admission to Berea College in Berea, Kentucky. My grades were dismal (I had a 1.67 GPA), so I called the director of admissions. He took time to pull my file and was really honest with me. I had one chance of being admitted. When he called back to say he had decided to give me a shot, I was elated.
But there was still conflict ahead; I was expelled twice. I wasn't sure what I wanted to do with my life. I had a gift for theatre and loved connecting with an audience, but I knew that society didn't see that gift as very valuable. I decided to major in communications. The skills I learned in my theatre and communications classes transferred into incredible things.
In my senior year, I was elected homecoming king, served as president of the student body, and received the Navy V12 award, one of the highest awards the college has for outstanding contributions to human kindness and interracial understanding. I graduated in 1992 and then went on to law school at the University of Kentucky-something no one in my family had ever done.
But I only went to law school because everyone said I couldn't do it. I never really wanted to practice law, and I still hadn't completely "found out what the rest of me was about." After graduating in December of 1995, I held several jobs. I was assistant director of the Black Culture Center, an admissions counselor at Berea, and served in the Mayor's office in Lexington, Kentucky.
During that time, I heard about a program through the Kentucky Humanities Council called the Kentucky Chautauqua. The Council was looking for people to act as historical characters, and I really missed the connection I felt to an audience when I was on stage.
The first character I played was a man named A.A. Burleigh, a slave in Anderson County (Quick Time | Real Media), Kentucky, who escaped to the Union lines during the Civil War. After the war, Burleigh was the first African-American adult student at Berea College.
In researching and writing the script, I found such a connection to myself. I found a connection to history and this country I had never known. I found a lot of black men and women and others of color—Native Americans and Latinos—making incredible sacrifices and fighting for the possibility of the American dream. That gave me lots of hope. It changed my whole view of who I am and what I can do. Today, I see that same transformation happen in the audience every time I play a Chautauqua character. When I play one of these characters, people hear his story and his pain and relive his triumph. They can't disengage. It is incredibly powerful.
Views on Literacy
I use my experience to create a rapport with many diverse people from a room full of Wall Street bankers to an auditorium of maximum-security inmates. I have developed programs for government, corporate, and non-profit agencies. Artistically, I have been recognized as an educator and performer.
I also develop programs for GED and alternative school classes. These programs use theater, focused writing and exploratory creative writing. I use poems to engage students in the process of self-discovery. When you have the ability to read and understand for yourself, you don't have to trust others to give you good information. At the end of the day, the ability to read is power. It is a chance to make sure you do not accept anything less than what you are going for. It is the first really big step, toward staging your own sucess.
None of the big steps I have taken would have happened had I not taken my mother's advice and gotten my GED. Education was the crossroads of my life. You have to make the world yours. Sometimes that means being creative. There were a whole lot of things I couldn't do because of my disabilities, but there are a whole lot more that I can do because of my gifts and my education.
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