By Prerana Sannappanavar
Felicia Davis, 53, sits at home in Chicago, wearing her glasses, which are a rare sight in her many TV appearances about her work as a social impact executive. During a Zoom chat earlier this year, she references two significant experiences that molded her understanding of equity and inequity.
While working as a court clerk at Cook County Jail from 2015 to 2017, Davis witnessed defendants coming in for legal proceedings. As a Black woman, she observed how often judges issued guilty verdicts to people of color. This was one of the first moments when she saw what inequity and inequality in the legal system looks like. She began questioning justice against the backdrop of racial equity, and thought-about Pulitzer-winning author Isabel Wilkerson, who, in Caste, described race as “being in a caste that you can never change.”
“I can change my career path, I can change my socioeconomic status, but the Blackness that I have, I can never change that,” Davis said. She was raised on the South Side by an “inspiring” mother who faced discrimination both because of her skin color and her gender. “Because to some people, all I am is a Black person and they have very negative connotations about that.”
As president and CEO of the Chicago Foundation for Women, Davis has wanted to create safe, inclusive spaces that do not create another “other.”
In the 1990s, she worked as a violent crimes detective for eight years and extensively investigated sex-related offenses. This role exposed her to survivors who had been victims of violence and how the judicial system treated crimes against women.
“It expands beyond the judicial system, the way in which people view women who have been victimized and decide the types of resources that they receive,” said Davis. “Even in a (social) context, we’re not equitably supporting women as victims.”
She draws a connection to her role as president of the CFW.
“I don’t want to create a new paradigm that will cause harm for future ‘other’ people,” Davis said.
Her mission statement aligns with CFW’s early foundational vision to create a safe community for women, girls, trans and gender-nonbinary individuals. “We’re all trying to eradicate these inequities and the discrimination no matter how it shows up,” she said.
Sunny Fischer, one of the organization’s co-founders, praised Davis.
“I think Felicia has done a wonderful job of being inclusive in that way and making sure that we’re concerned about trans and gender-nonbinary (individuals),” Fischer said. “It is very, very important to be inclusive and she’s being very specific about inclusivity.”
During her tenure as CEO, Davis’ focus is to shed light on three key areas: gender-based violence, economic security and access to health care. She cares most about pay equity and an unbalanced care infrastructure that puts pressure on women to be the sole caregiver. But her biggest mission is eliminating the “other.”
“I’ve been othered as a Black person,” Davis said. “I’ve been othered as a woman. I don’t want to create a category that makes someone else the ‘other.’”
Prerana Sannappanavar is a graduate student in the social justice specialization. Connect with Prerana on LinkedIn.