Human Rights Advocate Davinia James ’08


When not advocating publicly for a global human rights organization, James teaches at the Outdoor Nursery School in Chevy Chase, Md. A strong proponent of education, she was recently featured on NBC Nightly News for collecting more than 600,000 pennies for education for girls.


How do you teach your preschoolers about Jamaica, your native country?

Jamaica is a jewel and very dear to my heart. I share this with my class by having Jamaica Week every year. I transform the classroom with decorations—the Jamaican flag and pictures of our musicians and athletes. They learn songs, games, and our language—the local dialect is the patois. They also taste Jamaican food, including some of my favorites: patties, stew chicken, fruit cake, plantains, rice and peas, and tamarind balls. I teach them how make their own toys, so they gain perspective on the lives of less privileged children. They make trucks, cars, balls, and windmills. This is one crafty project they love.

Your mother inspired you to work hard and get an education. What difficulties did the two of you overcome?

My mom had a partial high-school-level education when she became a teen mom. I was her third child, and at 3 months old I became very ill. She was unable to care for me, so a family friend and community activist, Eunice Morrison, took me in. She and her husband raised me until I was 11. My mom visited when she could, and when Eunice died, I went to live with her. Jamaica is a very beautiful island, but like anywhere else, it has its grisly side. I was surrounded by violence and poverty. By 14 I realized I had to become my own role model because the people I looked up to were making bad decisions.

How did you escape the poverty?

I knew being educated was my gateway to becoming more than a statistic. After I finished high school in 2002, I came to the US to attend college and to be near my mom. She was living in Silver Spring, but I stayed with relatives in Baltimore and attended community college there. I transferred to Montgomery College in 2006. After my mom died, two special people, Jen and Rob Naddelman, took me under their wings. Jen and my mom had become close friends during my mom’s hospice care. The Naddelmans became what I call my Earthly parents. Without them believing in me and giving me continuous encouragement, I wouldn’t have become the woman I am today! Most importantly, they ensured that I got something that would give me tremendous freedom in this world, something no one can ever take away—my education. Graduating university is my biggest accomplishment yet.

You have been involved with Girl Rising, the nonprofit organization that promotes education for girls in developing countries. What does it means to be a GR ambassador?

In order to say what it means to be a Girl Rising ambassador, I must first define the movement. Girl Rising was founded by former journalists from ABC News, who wanted to help end poverty. Their solution was education for girls. To raise awareness and enlist support, they produced the film, Girl Rising. In the film, they feature nine girls from nine countries who have experienced things no one should ever have to go through. Girls should not be raped, sold, entered into bonded labor (slavery), forced into marriage, forced into childbirth, and deprived of an education. As a GR ambassador, I advocate for the 66 million girls worldwide who are not in school. I show the film at schools and community events, and share my own story of how I became a Girl Rising.

Why are you collecting pennies?

I collect pennies because people are skeptical about donating—pennies are easy to give away. Pennies are often considered worthless. It’s very sad to say, but in many parts of the world girls are viewed the same way, but pennies can change a girl’s life. My goal is to raise $28,000 and I’m still $21,000 away.

What part of your MC experience has been most valuable to you?

It’s been years since I first learned about thesis statements, paragraphs, bullet points, and how to express my thoughts to an audience, but my public speaking wouldn’t be possible now without the lessons and guidance I received in Speech 101 class and my MC professor, Fritzi Bodenheimer.

What would you say, in patois, to the girls in Jamaica who would look to you for inspiration?

To my beautiful girls in Jamaica: Wha nuh kill you, mek yuh stronga! What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I’m not what happened to me; I am who I choose to be. The world will not understand your dreams and visions, but don’t worry about that—they are yours to keep.

What will you be doing five years from now?

I see myself traveling the world, learning more about how other people live, and advocating for girls’ rights and education. I will stop at nothing until education becomes a basic human right to all, and until every single girl is able to make her own life decisions. I want to be showing the world that one girl with courage is a revolution, and many girls standing together are a force to be reckoned with. In Jamaica, our motto states: Out of Many, One People. I carry this ideal with me and hope to truly create a positive change in the world.

—Diane Bosser

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