Before Rashied Davis got a shot at the NFL, he was trying not to get shot in his home town.
After a solid six seasons with the Chicago Bears, Rashied Davis just signed a deal with the Detroit Lions. Rashied is married to his college sweetheart with two children and a career as a professional athlete. He’s a lucky man, but nothing in Rashied Davis’s life has been given to him. Where he grew up, he was more likely to become a drug dealer than a wide receiver in the NFL.
As a child, Rashied Davis hit the floor to dodge bullets in his own home in South Central Los Angeles. After his father was murdered by gang members at a McDonald’s when he was eight, Rashied and eight siblings were raised by his mother and aunt. They grew up around drugs, violence and poverty.
To Rashied, South Central L.A. was the whole world, “When I was a kid, all my idols were gang members. They sold drugs; they had everything that I thought I wanted. But I am here today because I turned away from that stuff. I am here today because somewhere along the line I got some hope from somewhere and that hope, I feel, came from God.”
When Rashied reached seventh grade, the world expanded. Against his pleas to stay in the neighborhood, his mother had him attend school in the San Fernando Valley.
I will always be very grateful to mom for knowing what was best for me. I was bused from poverty to an upper and upper-middle class community. This experience really helped me see that the world where I grew up wasn’t the entire world. It was also great to see kids who had more than I did as well as kids going through some of the same things I was going through. I had lots of friends and they were of all colors. I got a great education and going to school in the San Fernando Valley kept me out of trouble.
High school ended and a jobless, lost, 18-year-old Rashied reached another turning point. Driving home, his cousin and friend in the car with him, Rashied stepped on the gas. As the car accelerated, he terrified his passengers. If it was ever possible to outrun an uncertain future, Rashied would have done it in that car. Making it to his cousin’s house, angry and confused, he cried behind a locked bathroom door.
At that moment I started praying to God, and told Him ‘I don’t know what I am supposed to be doing but it isn’t this; just help me find out where I’m supposed to be.’ And at that moment, things started to change. I had to move back home, which I didn’t want to do. I had a lot of anger inside; the neighborhood wasn’t safe, I was angry with the local police, angry at my family. As I look back on it, I know God was moving things around in my life. He was saying, ‘You need to be back at home.’
Shortly after Rashied moved back home his cousin suggested West Los Angeles Junior College, “My cousin called me and said, ‘We are going to check into the school and see if we can play football.’” Rashied weighed 140 pounds in high school and he didn’t play football. If he was going to do this, he would have to prove that he was serious. To do that, Rashied ran track, worked out every day and when he couldn’t get a ride, he took the bus. The hard work paid off, he started his freshman year. Proud and living a dream, he realized that if he was good enough, he could get a scholarship to a four-year university, “Thank God I wound up being good enough. So that one weak moment in my cousin’s bathroom was instrumental in bringing me to where I am today.”
Rashied was admitted to San Jose State University after two years at junior college. A wide receiver with an average of 19.6 yards per catch, he was moved to defense to play cornerback in his senior year. The Arena Football League took notice because of his ability to play both offense and defense and the semester before graduating, Rashied signed with the San Jose SaberCats. Spending almost four years with the SaberCats, he broke franchise records as a return specialist, wide receiver and cornerback. He was voted the team’s most valuable player two years in a row and the offensive player of the year in 2005. He worked equally hard off-season at Best Buy and continued to take classes toward his degree.
In 2005, there was no doubt that all the hard work had paid off after Rashied was signed with the Chicago Bears and started his NFL career, “It took me a long while to get to this point in my life. It still isn’t easy and things have never been easy in my life, never, ever. I am very blessed to be able to come to Chicago.”
Today, Rashied is focusing on reaching out to kids in circumstances similar to his own, “I want to show and give these kids hope and say, ‘I know you live in this area, but there’s a whole other world outside of here. These are your current circumstances, but you don’t have to live in those circumstances your whole life. You can pull yourself through with a lot of hard work, a lot of determination and a lot of faith.’” He and his wife, Dianna, started a charitable organization called Rashied Davis Charities, “We focus on literacy and character education and we provide field trips for children in third and fourth grades. Our mission statement is to teach children how to overcome obstacles to success through inspiration, preparation and discipline.”
Rashied believes manhood is about taking responsibility for your own life, “My life is my responsibility. It’s no one else’s. Not my mom’s, not my father’s if he was alive, no one else’s. If kids grow up like I did or they grow up with a silver spoon, it’s the same for all of us. I have learned over the years the difference between a man and a boy is, a man learns how to play a bad hand well. No matter what cards I have been dealt, I have figured out how to play a bad hand well. Every kid can learn to do this regardless of their environment.”
Rashied Davis Charities is creating Saturday Place, where children learn to see beyond their existing circumstances, acquire the knowledge and academic skills necessary for success and understand their obligation to self and others. The Saturday Place is a tutoring program that focuses on enrichment, literacy and character education for third and fourth graders.