Harold Davis, A Chicago Anti-Violence Activist And Youth Mentor, Has Died Of COVID-19

Davis spent two decades working with at-risk teens to decrease violence in Chicago. He died Easter Sunday.

Harold Davis, left, talks with students who completed renovations on the auditorium at Harold Washington Elementary School in Chicago’s Burnside neighborhood.
Harold Davis, left, talks with students who completed renovations on the auditorium at Harold Washington Elementary School in Chicago's Burnside neighborhood in 2017. Davis died of COVID-19 on Sunday. Bill Healy for WBEZ
Harold Davis, left, talks with students who completed renovations on the auditorium at Harold Washington Elementary School in Chicago’s Burnside neighborhood.
Harold Davis, left, talks with students who completed renovations on the auditorium at Harold Washington Elementary School in Chicago's Burnside neighborhood in 2017. Davis died of COVID-19 on Sunday. Bill Healy for WBEZ

Harold Davis, A Chicago Anti-Violence Activist And Youth Mentor, Has Died Of COVID-19

Davis spent two decades working with at-risk teens to decrease violence in Chicago. He died Easter Sunday.

Harold Davis spent the last two decades working with Chicago’s at-risk teens to decrease the city’s violence.

“I could call Harold any time of day, any day of the week, any day of the year,” said Jadine Chou, Chicago Public Schools Chief of Safety and Security. “If one of our young people needed something, he was always there.”

Davis died early on Easter Sunday of acute respiratory distress syndrome associated with COVID-19. He was 63 years old.

Chou said Davis’ death is a huge loss for young people in Chicago.

“Having grown up in Altgeld Gardens, he knew what it felt like to have people look at you a certain way, have a perception of you, and he wanted to make sure that all of our young people knew that they had just the brightest future, and they were smart, and they were important,” she said.

Davis’ longtime friend Gregory Sain said so much of Davis’ work in Chicago went unseen.

“He was working with people that the world had rejected, you know, and they didn’t know where to go for help,” Sain said. “And here comes Harold.”

Beyond his work, Sain said Davis loved to spend time on his farm in Michigan where he grew blueberries and strawberries.

Most of all, Sain said, Davis was a family man, devoted to his wife, Monica, and his college-aged son and his young daughter. He gets choked up talking about Davis as a father. In many ways, Davis was a father to thousands of kids in Chicago.

He launched a summer jobs program with CPS in 2004 to fix up dilapidated auditoriums inside the city’s public schools. He also held contracts to do safe passage and safe haven at dozens of schools on the South and West sides.

Ald. Pat Dowell, 3rd Ward, knew Davis for his work doing safe passage and safe haven at schools in her ward on the near South Side. She said he was “straight, no chaser.”

“He was always kind and gracious, but you knew that what he said he meant,” Dowell said.

For many years, Davis hosted a radio show called The Butt Naked Truth on local gospel station WBGX. He often called out corruption and argued for equality in the black community.

“He wasn’t sugar coating anything, he called a spade a spade,” Sain said.

Many people, including several local elected officials, posted memories of Davis on Facebook on Monday.

“Unfortunately, because we’re in this pandemic, we have to mourn in those ways through the social media platforms that are available,” Dowell said. “I’m sure that people will come together when we’re able to come together as a community and celebrate his life.”

Chou, with CPS, said the district is working to notify the students Davis was currently mentoring.

“The work is not going to stop, he would not want us to stop,” Chou said. “We’re going to make sure that we keep plowing forward in his vision.”

Becky Vevea is a political reporter at WBEZ. Follow her @beckyvevea.