Women Leaders of Change: Dr. Takeisha Davis
The following blog is an excerpt from remarks provided by Dr. Takeisha Davis, Chair of United Way of Southeast Louisiana’s Board of Trustees, at Women United’s Louisiana Women Leaders of Change luncheon. Additional featured speakers included First Lady Donna Edwards, Jefferson Parish President Cynthia Lee Sheng, and New Orleans Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Sandra Lindquist.
Listening to the powerful women leaders of change that have been celebrated here today gives me great hope for the future as we at United Way of Southeast Louisiana continue to advance our collective mission to eradicate poverty in our community. Since the 1800s, women leaders have been at the forefront of what seemed like insurmountable challenges, fighting for the right to vote, the right to education, the right to equal pay, civil rights…we have fought just to BE and continue to fight for everything we have, so who better to lead the fight for equitable communities than women…UNITED.
There is no doubt that we are navigating challenging times – rebuilding from devastating hurricanes, weathering the economic and health impacts of a pandemic, record inflation, and long-standing systemic racism. It is no exaggeration to say that our most vulnerable families in our seven-parish region, including low-income families, families of color, women, our youth, our seniors, are struggling more than ever to survive.
But TOGETHER, we can change this compound disadvantage faced by nearly 50% of our neighbors, the ALICE population, but only if we care enough to get in the fight. Are we courageous enough to care enough to solve these long-standing, systemic issues? When ALICE families suffer and struggle to afford the basic needs like food, shelter, and health care, we all suffer.
When the pandemic first hit in 2020, we learned just how essential our teachers, city workers, health care workers, culture bearers were to our very existence. Our interconnectedness to these ALICE families could not be denied as we saw the world come to a halt. We must not forget how much we cared for the “essential worker” when their well-being directly impacted our well-being. Not intentionally investing in our most vulnerable neighbors will continue to lead to the unintentional consequences that are caused by poor education, poverty, health disparities, crime, blight, homelessness, unbearable rates of preventable deaths…
But imagine what COULD happen, what WOULD happen if everyone of us in this room was courageous enough to care enough to “love thine neighbor as yourself” as Mark 12:31 tells us “there is no other commandment greater than this.” Imagine what would happen if the instincts you have for your own children existed for your community. If your heart broke when you saw a child without clothes, or a mother without milk for her infants – irrespective of where they lived or what they looked like – like your heart breaks for your own children when they are in need.
If we are going to transform Louisiana’s communities to thriving, equitable places where ALL individuals are healthy, educated, and economically stable, it will take bold and aspirational initiatives from ALL of us to create the maximum impact needed to solve these long-standing, systemic issues. It will take the courage that women have shown for centuries.
But we ALL must get in this fight, and it can’t be a crisis-based strategy but a long-term, evidence-based strategy like United Way’s Blueprint for Prosperity that provides a holistic approach to the issues community members across our seven-parish region expressed as challenges. As a lead convener in Southeast Louisiana, United Way is always at the table helping to find collaborative, innovative solutions with expert partners and funders through community partnerships, programs, and policy priorities.
This past legislative session, United Way played a pivotal role in wins for women and children, including the success of a multi-year effort to create an Office on Women’s Health within the Louisiana Department of Health. We also rallied the United Against Domestic Violence Coalition to organize against bills threatening to roll back protections for domestic violence survivors - protections the coalition fought to enact nearly 10 years ago. And together with Women UNITED and many partners, United Way helped lead the Ready Louisiana Coalition, whose members helped secured $84 million for early care and education during this legislative session.
This year we will continue to double down on innovative approaches and partnerships aimed at increasing the health and wellness of our youth, like actively participating in the NOLA Coalition to ensure that the New Orleans Youth Master Plan is intentionally amplified and resourced because our youth hold the future in their hands. They are NOT the problem but our FUTURE. But we need you all at the table with us, fighting for our future. Our youth deserve for us to care enough, to love them as our own, to provide for them equitable communities to be able to manifest the greatness that lies within them. They deserve our courage. They deserve our fight!
Since COVID, every day I get back in the ring hopeful that I will get closer to winning the battle of equity. I know first-hand how never-ending fight, love, and community support took a poor black girl from New Orleans from being stabbed three times in her senior year of high school to the halls of Ivy League institutions to being called CEO and the first African American female chairwoman of United Way.
Extraordinary, YES. But the exception, NO. I am merely a visible representation of what love and support can do.
So, while the problems in front of us loom large, every day we prove we are stronger, UNITED. Michelle Obama reminded us “hope and change are hard-fought things,” so I encourage you to stay hopeful and stay in this fight with us. Our entire community deserves it!
Dr. Takeisha Davis
Chair, United Way of Southeast Louisiana Board of Trustees
CEO, New Orleans East Hospital