7-year-old Jackie Davis sat alone in a dark closet on punishment. Getting into trouble was routine and isolation was no stranger. He was neglected, separated from his family, abused, adopted and returned all before the age of 10. However, in the pit of his trauma a seed was planted that would bloom into a bright future.
“It was the first time I asked myself, ‘what do I want from my life and how do I want to make my life different?’” Jackie said.
Flash forward to the future, Jackie is a father, artist, Dallas C.A.S.A. supervisor, master’s degree holder and more. While the trials of his childhood did not end that day in the closet, he was able to overcome them and later uplift and inspire others to do the same.
His life reached a turning point when he was adopted for a second time. However, the then 13-year-old Jackie initially didn’t even want to be adopted. The rejection from the first failed adoption, witnessing the passing of a foster sibling (due to medical issues), and being separated from another close-knit foster sibling embedded fear within him.
“At my final placement, when I was asked if I wanted to be adopted I said ‘absolutely not,’” Jackie recalled. “But my foster mom told me that I couldn’t live life afraid,” so Jackie reluctantly reopened himself to the process.
By no means were concerns about Jackie’s adoption prospects resolved because he was open to the possibility. He still had behavioral issues, a lengthy record, effects from a lifetime of trauma, and he was a teenager. Nonetheless, he went to the CPS office with his foster mom for an interview with a potential adoptive parent. Before the interview, Jackie was sent to a separate room to be supervised by another CPS worker.
“They opened the door and said, ‘Hey Alesia, do you mind watching Jackie for a bit?’ and she looked up, wide eyed, and started bawling,” Jackie recalled.
Alesia Davis, the adoption recruiter at CPS at the time, ran up to him and showered him with affection and excitement as soon as he walked in the door. While she was busy hugging him and showing him pictures of her family, he wondered who this woman was.
Jackie said, “That was one of the craziest experiences I had. Whenever I walked away from it, I realized I had never seen anybody so excited about me.”
Fortunately for Alesia, she was able to adopt Jackie. He fit right in with his new family while receiving the love, stability and discipline he needed. Although it took years for him to fully accept that the Davises would not leave him, he learned, “what love is through healing,” Jackie said.
By the end of his teenage years Jackie attended Tarrant County Community College (TCC). He wasn’t sure how he would create a good life for himself, but he took classes sporadically until a professor took interest in Jackie. She pushed him to graduate from TCC and he didn’t stop there. Another friend encouraged him to keep going and attend University of North Texas (UNT), which was “a game changer,” said Jackie.
“I had people along my journey that always invested in me. They gave me positive messages about education and how it could be a factor in changing my life and beating those cycles of abuse and trauma,” Jackie said.
At UNT, Jackie got connected with a professor after she read a paper by him titled, “Why I Didn’t Want to be Adopted.” Inspired and intrigued, she invited him to co-found an organization with her to support foster youth in university called “Perseverance Until Success Happens” (P.U.S.H.).
“P.U.S.H. allowed us to tell our story and serve our community. The leadership opportunities changed the way I saw the world and I learned how to study and ask for help,” said Jackie.
The support system at P.U.S.H. allowed members to graduate, bond, and achieve their goals. Jackie switched his major to social work and became friendly with the professors, dean, and other academic leaders – so much so he was asked to be his graduating class’s commencement speaker.
“Looking out over the crowd and speaking to the students, I felt like I arrived. I felt like I was capable of doing and being great things. It validated what I felt in that closet,” Jackie said.
Jackie continues inspiring others through his work, art, and testimony. Whether it’s advocating for foster youth in board rooms, listening to children in care express themselves, or creating masterpieces of art with his own CPS records, he never stops being a champion for his community.
However, out of all Jackie’s achievements, “being a father is the most successful thing I’ve ever done,” Jackie said. In the same way people along his journey have poured into him, he gets to nurture healthy generational cycles in his family.
“Every part of you that heals is an inheritance to your child. Because that’s how everyone gets better,” Jackie said.
While Jackie’s story may seem like an anomaly, it is a possibility for every child in care. By continuing to be intentional about healing and supporting others through their healing journey, we too can foster a community that is loving, safe, and cooperative like Jackie Davis modeled.