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Interview with Gregory Davis

Davis, Gregory
More, Melissa Tia
Date of Interview: 
Overcoming obstacles
Greg Davis talks about becoming blind and his achievements in Charlotte.
Charlotte Narrative and Conversation Collection
Collection Description: 
Melissa Tia More interviewed Charlotte, NC residents to collect various stories for a class project at UNC Charlotte.
MM (Melissa Tia More): Um, good afternoon Dr. Davis. Could you please just introduce yourself?
GD (Gregory Davis): My name is Gregory Davis. Uh that's who I was born as. As I matured I received some titles, but they are not who I am. My titles is Reverend Dr. Gregory Davis. My job title is I'm Director of Minority Services here at UNC-Charlotte. Have, have been here in this job, have, have been a member of the faculty and staff at UNC-Charlotte since 1979.
MM: OK, could you tell us a little about you know, your background as far as where you lived and where you have lived and things?
GD: I was born in New York City in Harlem, New York on November 17, 1951. I had a twin who died at birth. I grew up very poor, uh, I lost my vision, uh, in 1968 as a result of a detached retina. I came to North Carolina in 1962 when my mother died to live with my grandmother who raised me, two brothers and another si-, ah, and a sister. So it was four of us. Um, in 1963, one day my mother had always knew I was going to be blind because she told my grandmother that before she died. So they sent me away to a North Carolina School for the Blind which is now the Governor Morehead School for the Blind.
MM: OK, well uh Dr. Davis, if you could just, um, reach back into memory or, or sometime give us a short story just about you or a event or something in your life.
GD: Well when I was at school for the blind I always wanted to be a, um, lawyer. And when the, uh, uh, guidance counselors would come, we would go to that career thing, you know, whatever they called it, that class and they would talk to you about what it is you wanted to do when you grow up, and I, I told the lady that, that I wanted to be a lawyer. And she told me that, um, I wasn't smart enough to be a lawyer and I needed to hink of being something like a janitor or something. And I don't, I don't, I, you know I have no problems with people who are janitors because we need maintenance people. Some of my best friends, people who I love dearly, work at this university in maintenance. And I think it's a fine, you know, that, but my dream was to be a lawyer.
MM: Mhm.
GD: And the lady told me well, that's not what I could do. So I got angry about it. And, so, so they said they were going to prove to me that I wasn't smart enough to be a lawyer. Now I, I realize at the School for the Blind in 1971 when I was 20 years old, or 19 I think it was, I was the only person in the whole school that flunked typing that year.
MM: [Laughs]
GD: I, I do realize that so, I mean, I know, however, I still knew what I wanted to do. So they said they were going to prove to me that I was not capable of being mainstream, going to college, and etcetera. So they sent me back to Charlotte that summer and I was 20 years old, 21 years old and had the equivalency of a ninth grade education. And because when I went to the School for the Blind in 1963 I was totally illiterate so they made me start all over again. And so when I got there I started studying, I mean, they, they sent me back to Charlotte and I went to Harding High School to get, to take a ninth grade English course. And the teacher that came in to teach me, she had never [phone rings], she must have been about the same age I was. And, uh, she [phone rings] and she, and she, um, um, [phone rings] had never had a blind person before.
MM: Mhm.
GD: And me and her, she taught me how to, we used clay, um, t-, to teach me how to diagram sentences-.
MM: Mhm.
GD: -To do verb tenses, things of that nature.
MM: So you could feel it?
GD: For, so I could feel what, you know, how, how you would do the verb tenses and so forth. She, um, taught me how to do research. And I did my first term paper in her class and I made an A.
MM: Hm.
GD: And I went back in School for the Blind and the lady told me that well, you know, you didn't really earn that A. Since you was blind, they probably gave it to you. And I got real angry-.
MM: This lady worked at the School for the Blind?
GD: Yeah, she worked at the School for the Blind. I got very angry and bitter and I quit school at 21 years old. I left the School for the Blind in the summer of 1972. And I came back to Charlotte and I was really depressed about it 'cause I was blind. I didn't know what I was going to do.
MM: Mhm.
GD: And I knew I was going to go back over there and kill the principal of the school-.
MM: [Laughs]
GD: -'Cause I figured I'd never amount to anything anyway.
MM: [Laughs]
GD: So then I found out about this program with Central Piedmont where they would, they would take visually impaired students. They would do an experiment with the special services program.
MM: Mhm.
GD: They would be, it, it would be a forerunner to our disabled students services here on this campus. But this was long before, uh, '88 and Murphy Disability Act came through. So I went to that s-, went, went to Central Piedmont and got my GED. And when he went up to, up to to School for the Blind to ask for my records, they told him that they would have problems with me because I was really too retarded.
MM: But you'd never been tested for that or anything?
GD: I had never been tested for that // not, not-. //
MM: // They just diagnosed you on your own? //?
GD: -Not of my knowledge-.
MM: Mhm.
GD: -But um, in 1981 I became president of the North Carolina Council for the Blind and Chairman for the Consumer Advocacy Committee for the Blind for the whole state of North Carolina. And um, I used the Freedom of Information Act to get my records. And actually they did have in there I was borderline mentally retarded, written out, you know. And, so um, I went to, I went to Central Piedmont, got my GED, finished-, I started in October and finished in January. I started in October of '72. Finished in Ja-, finished in, in uh, De-, December of '72 and started in college, no I didn't, I fi-, finished in April, March of '73. And got my GED with a four-point-o.
MM: Wow.
GD: Started Central Piedmont in April of 1973 as a freshman and by 1976 I had completed UNC-Charlotte graduating with, as one of the outstanding graduating seniors, had a full scholarship to Duke Divinity School.
MM: Wow.
GD: Uh, in 1993 Governor Hunt offered me a job as Director of Services for the Blind for the whole state of North Carolina, which I would have been over the same School for the Blind who said I was mentally retarded. But I, I declined to go to Raleigh because I was still at UNC-Charlotte and wanted to stay here and stay in Charlotte, so, that's-.
MM: Did you still, you did, you didn't take it because you didn't want to leave the area?
GD: Oh I didn't take it because of a number of reasons. I didn't take it because I didn't want to deal with the politics of going to work in Raleigh.
MM: Mhm.
GD: I didn't take it because I asked them, my student assistant at that time who was graduating. I asked them if she could kind of be my administrative assistant and they, they wouldn't let me have that. So I figured if they wouldn't let me have something as simple as me having my own administrative assistant that I wanted to bring with me, then what else they wouldn't let me have?
MM: Mhm.
GD: So I decided that I didn't want to get involved in the politics. And at that time I was starting to develop problems with my, with my back that I now know was the best decision because I've had four back operations since '93. So I stayed here. And I had made a commitment to the church that I was pasturing. They stayed with me during some hard times and I told them I wouldn't leave them 'til I helped them build a church. So I decided not to go. So that's my story.
MM: Mm.
GD: And that's why I'm still here.
MM: So how long have you been here at UNC-Charlotte // now? //
GD: // I came // in 1979 so I guess I've been, August will be 24 years.
MM: Hm, and how long do you plan on staying?
GD: Um, to-, 'til 1909, 2009.
MM: [Laughs]
GD: 2009, that's how long I plan to stay. And then I'm retiring. After UTOP graduates in August of 2009 we're going downstairs and having my retirement party after that.
MM: [Laughs]