Nov. 5, 2001
“God bless you. Thank you for what you are doing. I am so proud of you because you followed your heart.” Oprah Winfrey to Jeff Davis, April 23, 2001
Sometimes it just clicks between some people. It happened to Joanie Davis some 22 years ago, it happened to this author more than 20 years ago and it happened just this past April to Oprah Winfrey while taping her world-renowned talk show.
For lack of a better term, I will call “it” that old Jeff Davis “spirit.” It comes from deep within his soul and when the “right” connection is made, one experiences an overwhelming sense of feeling truly blessed.
No doubt his mother versed him well in the technique of making a good first impression, for that he surely does, but what one feels is so much more than that. And, as Jeff Davis, the ordained minister admits, “if you know the spiritual side of Jeff Davis you know the real Jeff Davis. According to his wife, Joanie, “He is the same all the time, genuine, passionate and fun-loving. At home, at work or on the football field he always has these characteristics.”
In this author’s case, the maturity, passion, spirituality and decisiveness that led me to nickname J.D., “The Judge” for All-America promotions in 1981, first impressed me when I interviewed him for the Clemson vs. Georgia football program in September, 1981. Davis explained the evolution of his Oprah experience in the following manner. “A phone call from Faith Harris of Harpo Productions came to my office one day last February. It seems this representative from Oprah’s Angel Network had seen the USA Today article on the Call Me Mister Program and she wanted to know more about the program. After talking to me she said her organization would like to consider the Call Me Mister program as a potential recipient for the “Use Your Life” award.”
I guess from that, one could surmise that Davis’ “spirit” even travels through the telephone lines!
At any rate, Davis’ road to the Oprah Show was on the fast track. “As a potential recipient for the award, I had to fill out a detailed application explaining the Call Me Mister Program and my role in it,” said Davis. “A call came from The Angel Network again a few weeks later informed me that we had been selected to receive the honor and $100,000 award.
Taping for the South Carolina program description segment needed to be organized and shot the very next day. Overnight Davis and his staff notified the young men who are Davis’ Misters and the next day footage was shot at Claflin College, Benedict College and Carver Elementary School. “I left my house that morning at five and returned home at 10 that evening,” Davis recalls. “Taping for the Oprah Show was an exciting, demanding process. The entire experience was completed in a quick fashion but it was done with excellence all the way through.”
While Davis’ Oprah experience continued past the South Carolina taping day, he maintains it is the Misters and not himself personally who are the real heroes of the story. “These men can walk into any arena and succeed,” said Davis. “They are realizing a dream. Their education and ability to educate is a source of empowerment.”
As he continued, Davis’ words took on an almost preacher-like passion. “I love being a part of encouraging and inspiring young men to become elementary school teachers. Helping these young men to earn their degrees, become role models and really be in charge, that is fun to me. I can’t wait for this first group to graduate and get certified.”
In mid-April the fun part of the Oprah experience culminated as Davis, his wife and five of his “Misters” flew to Chicago to meet Oprah, accept the award and tape the show. “The entire time we were in Chicago we received first-class treatment. Everyone associated with Oprah’s staff made sure our visit was a special one.
“Accepting the award was a defining moment in my life” Davis recalled. “I returned to Clemson University to maximize the degree I earned. It was one thing for me to experience success as an athlete here, but quite another experience for me to achieve success as a former student-athlete and businessman. The role of a student really means something now, and it is something to be embraced. As far as I am concerned, I won another National Championship the day I accepted the “Use Your Life Award” on Oprah’s Angel Network.
Where does the Call Me Mister Program Field Director go from here? The television spotlight is gone, but the “spirit” that drives the man, the minister, the husband, the father and the friend soars farther than ever. “God has purposed all of us for something great,” stated Davis exuberantly. He has achieved success on the gridiron, and among the education ranks, he has been a successful church youth minister and he had been sought after as a motivational speaker. Is the best yet to come?
So, what do you make of this mix? A former Clemson and professional football veteran turned minister turned field director full of “spirit” is called by “Faith” of The Angel Network to garnish blessings and pennies from Heaven from a famous star in the media who is known for her kind soul and compassion.
Perhaps Della Reese or the writers of the CBS television show, “Touched By An Angel” will soon be calling Davis’ office too? No matter if they don’t because elementary school students in South Carolina will soon have education “angels” in their midst if Jeff Davis has his say.
Remember, nobody ever questions, “The Judge.”
Kim Kelly was an assistant sports information director at Clemson University during Clemson’s 1981 National Championship season. Currently she is Director of Public Relations for the National Association For Continence.
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