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  • Writer's pictureleighdavis991

A Childhood Path to Public Service

Updated: Apr 1

My conversation with members of the Berkshire County NAACP last month made headlines, not only for the wide range of issues we discussed — emergency services, housing, farming, and the “Gender Queer” book controversy at DuBois Middle School — but also for the personal reflections I shared about growing up in a biracial family, experiencing racism, and becoming comfortable in my own skin.

I grew up in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, DC, where my parents were public servants in the ‘60s and ‘70s and ‘80s  My mom, Mary Kay, was white and worked for more than 20 years as the assistant to Sargent Shriver, founder of the Peace Corps and the Special Olympics.

Leigh's father Lloyd, here with Coretta Scott King, is widely credited as "the architect of the MLK Holiday."

My father, Lloyd, was Black. Over a career spanning nearly four decades, he distinguished himself as an advocate for urban development, equal opportunity in employment, and integration, In Washington, he rose through the ranks of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, ultimately serving as senior adviser to the secretary of the Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. before being tapped to be first vice president and chief operating officer of the Martin Luther King Center for Nonviolent Social Change in Atlanta. Dad helped plan the building of the Martin Luther King Historic Site and successfully lobbied Congress to establish the Martin Luther King Jr. federal holiday.

Racism didn’t care. I will never forget the families who moved out of the neighborhood when we moved in, or the neighbor across the street who had lived there for 40 years and never said a word to us because my dad was Black..

Justice cares about every person regardless of where they come from, how they worship, the gender they choose, or whom they love. As much as those memories still hurt me, they empower me more as a woman of color and a public servant myself. They inform my belief that strong communities are built on a foundation of trust and a sense of belonging, that respect and honesty are the values that give that foundation its integrity, and if you see something, say something.

If you see something, say something.
  • For example, when I spoke at the Black Lives Matter rally in Great Barrington in the summer of 2020 to protest the unjust killings of Blacks, my message was, “No More!”

  • Speaking in 2021 as a member of the Great Barrington selectboard in support of the proclamation to annually recognize and celebrate W.E.B. DuBois’s birthday, February 23, my message was, “It’s time.” 

  • In being one of 20 state lawmakers named in 2022 to the inaugural Massachusetts Black Lawmakers Roundtable at Tufts University in Boston, I embraced the welcome message of U.S. Representative Ayanna Pressley (MA-07), the highest-ranking Black lawmaker in Massachusetts and first woman of color to represent the Commonwealth in Congress.: “We know that hurt and harm have been codified through generations of policy violence,” she said, “so it is critical that we work daily to codify justice and healing, at all levels of government.”

Now, as a candidate running to be your Berkshire 3rd District state representative, my message to all is this: Civil and inclusive communities are not threatened by dialogue that questions or disagrees. They aren’t afraid of free speech or ideas that are different, and they listen to each other with humility and open minds. Because no matter what side of the street you live on, we must all be partners in the pursuit of happiness.

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