Education

Merced civil rights leader, educator has name etched in stone

A photo of the late Denard Davis is displayed by his wife Yvonne Davis at their home in Merced, Calif., Friday, Jan. 15, 2016. Yvonne Davis has been chosen as the Grand Marshall of Monday's Martin Luther King Jr. parade in Merced.
A photo of the late Denard Davis is displayed by his wife Yvonne Davis at their home in Merced, Calif., Friday, Jan. 15, 2016. Yvonne Davis has been chosen as the Grand Marshall of Monday's Martin Luther King Jr. parade in Merced. akuhn@mercedsunstar.com

The late Denard Davis was known as "Mr. D" throughout the Merced County community.

Along with his work as a teacher at Tenaya Junior High School and later as assistant superintendent of the Merced County Office of Education, Davis also was a civil rights advocate and ushered in an environment of non-discrimination and advocacy of Merced's youth.

Now, his name is forever linked with the Merced County Office of Education.

More than a hundred of the county's educators and supporters were on hand last Friday in the MCOE administration building to see it being dedicated and re-named as "Merced County Office of Education Denard W. Davis Administration Building."

Davis was a key figure in MCOE's implementation of civil rights and affirmative action laws resulting from the Civil Rights Act. He founded the Black Businessmen of Merced County, Black Educators of Merced County and the Concerned Men Cook competition.

Davis also was involved in city commissions, nonprofit organizations that worked to refurbish south Merced homes and projects including the refurbishment of the George Washington Carver Community Center in South Dos Palos, establishment of voting districts in Merced and lecturing on the Civil Rights movement at UC Merced and other institutions.

He died on Sept. 8, 2015, at the age of 81.

During an afternoon program Friday, several local leaders spoke about Davis' accomplishments. But they also delved deeper into why Davis advocated so hard for under-served and underprivileged people in Merced County.

"You can't do what Denard Davis did and not love Merced," said Charlie Bennett, a member of the administration building dedication committee.

UC Merced Chancellor Dorothy Leland noted how Davis, who was a member of the university board that awarded the Alice and Clifford Spendlove Prize in Social Justice, Diplomacy and Tolerance, was an integral part of "linking" UC Merced with Merced College.

Merced County Supervisor Jerry O'Banion remembered Davis' deejay gig for the Los Banos-based radio station KLBS Radio called "Mr. D's Soul Train." He also said Davis was instrumental in the South Dos Palos community center project.

Henry Valdez, Davis' successor at the MCOE, said Davis approached his work as "a labor of love."

Near the end of the program, Davis' wife, Yvonne Davis spoke about her husband's legacy and what the dedication meant for his family.

As Yvonne Davis talk, she walked up the room and touched the shoulders of members of the gathering, reminding them of their potential and importance of faith.

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