Foxy Love Davison and her mother, Angela Collins | Photo credit: Will Austin
More than a half century ago, Foxy Love Davison’s maternal grandparents, the Rev. Leo Brown Jr. and his wife, Barbara, began working as long-term volunteers at the McNeil Island Corrections Center and the Washington Correctional Center for Women. The couple was determined to help the men and woman who, day after day, year after year, had no real space to call their own and precious little say in what they ate or where they could go. As incarcerated individuals, their existence was threatened by constant danger and suspicion, as well as characterized by an absence of love, understanding and human connection. Sadly, these conditions and qualities of incarcerated life would not improve dramatically for many of these people once they were released.
The Browns poured their passion for helping this population into the founding and development of the Progress House Association, a Tacoma-based organization that today provides housing, programming, counseling, recreation and employment services to formerly incarcerated individuals through its three facilities.
As Davison grew up, her adoring grandparents wove a complex tapestry that exposed her to the pain, hardship, challenge and, most importantly, the humanity of the incarcerated men and woman with whom they worked. At a young age, she came to understand more than most adults that imprisoned humans face significant trauma and challenge when it comes time to leave correctional facilities. They face joblessness, have sometimes insurmountable difficulties finding housing, and often require more support than their family, friends and community are able or willing to provide.
As a third-generation family member working for Progress House, Davison is proud to carry on her grandparents’ legacy of service.
Yours is the first family to be recognized as ParentMap Superheroes! Please share a bit about your family members’ different roles in the organization.
My grandfather is now an adviser, as he’s gotten older, but he is not retired. My mom, Angela Collins, has been working there for 33 years, and she is now the CEO. My aunt, Cynthia Fedrick, is now the COO, and deals with finance issues and management. This is a big job, with three facilities. I am the community outreach coordinator.
What motivated your grandparents so many years ago to start the organization?
My grandparents repeatedly heard from [correctional facility] residents who said, “Hey, when we get out, we can’t find housing and we can’t find a job,” or, “Our family is not there for us, and we’ve got nowhere to turn to restart our lives.” While the incarcerated appreciated the Browns’ volunteering and help on the inside, these individuals really needed substantial help on the outside. My grandparents worked endlessly with the City of Tacoma to establish the first two residences.
Can you share an example of how you’ve seen a life changed by Progress House?
We always have faith that people can change — if they do the work. The reality is that for some people, it takes awhile. Some get discouraged and give up.
There was a young man, now grown, who went through our program five times. This gentleman finally “got it.” And he’ll tell you that he got it because of my mother’s work with him. Because of the hard work she did, telling him the truth and the things that he really needed to do to turn his life around. Now he’s on our advisory board, owns his own gym and is coming back to volunteer to get residents to go and work out. It is uplifting to see this kind of turnaround.
What do you find rewarding about your role?
I like getting the community plugged into the work going on in the building. I enthusiastically talk about Progress House wherever and whenever I possibly can to get people to engage with the residents in the building. I really like to help get people from the building out into the community to access resources and services.
Do you foresee a time when your kids might work at Progress House?
I always think about when I was young and my mom used to bring us there and we used to clean the offices at the facility. The great thing about my family is that they never made us feel afraid of the residents. They treated them with the same dignity and respect as any other neighbors. So, I really had no clue, until I was older, about what had gotten this man or that woman into a correctional facility. My kids are very aware of who is in the building, but that doesn’t seem to scare them. And, yes, I want them as involved as they’d like to be. They don’t have to be, but if they want to be, absolutely!
Who is your personal hero?
Angela Collins, my mom. I grew up in a single-parent house, where my mom worked hard and didn’t graduate high school. She went from cook to CEO of a company; she stayed with it when there were tough days and she demonstrated profound diligence and integrity as a Black woman in America.
What do you want people to understand about your work?
Residents coming from prison have served their time and they need the community to be ready to receive them. We take our hats off to the people who work closely with incarcerated residents, because it doesn’t pay well in terms of money, but it pays well in many other ways.
What’s one small action our readers can take in their own lives to make positive change happen?
Be willing to be open to the people in your community, no matter where they came from. Everyone has a story to tell and share, and we need to support one another.
What one thing did an adult or mentor do for you as a youth that helped you succeed?
My mom told me the truth about the good and bad stuff of life. She didn’t withhold the tough things from us.
Best advice for kids with big ambition?
Sometimes the world we live in, especially for people of color, [tells you] that your ambitions should not be too high. But I say, you may not accomplish them, but you must really go for it!
If you could have a superpower, what would it be?
[The ability] to sit in the clouds. It would be my favorite place to look out from, and I have always wanted to just linger there.
If you could dine with anyone, living or dead, whom would that be?
My grandmother Barbara Jean Brown.
Favorite read of the last year?
“Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates.
Fill in the blank:
What the world needs now is L-O-V-E.