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Ramsay High School’s Tyra Davis, 17, Winning Essay Contests and Mock Trial Competitions

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Tyra Davis, of Birmingham’s Ramsay High School, was one of the first-place winners of the Martin Luther King Jr. Unity Breakfast Written Essay and Digital Presentation Contests. (Marika N. Johnson, For The Birmingham Times)

By Sym Posey
The Birmingham Times

Tyra Davis is not your average 17-year-old high school junior. Just look at her schedule over the past several months.

Davis, of Birmingham’s Ramsay High School, was one of the first-place winners of the Martin Luther King Jr. Unity Breakfast Written Essay and Digital Presentation Contests. She was honored at the event for the essay portion of the competition, which was held at Birmingham-Southern College on Martin Luther King Jr. Day and got a chance to read her speech to a room full of leaders.

“The scholarship is important to me because I was able to advocate for youth activism throughout my essay,” Davis said of the contest, for which a monetary scholarship is awarded to the top three entries in each category.

“When I was reading at the breakfast, I felt the energy in the crowd and how it was very impactful to them. That was my goal the entire time. … I was writing my essay because I knew I had to read it in front of everyone. When I read it on stage it was a surreal experience,” she added.

Two for Two

That win was preceded by another one late last year. In October, Davis and some of her classmates participated in the first annual Mock Trial Competition sponsored by the Birmingham Bar Association (BBA) as part of its Students Today | Lawyers Tomorrow project. The Rams took first place, and Davis was named Outstanding Attorney for round one of the competitions.

“I was a prosecutor,” Davis said. “I made sure to include [key] elements in my final summary and made sure to bring feedback about what happened during the round. … It felt like I did what I came there to do.”

Davis, unsurprisingly, dedicates a lot of her school time to extracurricular activities, such as serving as president of the Youth & Government program, “a national YMCA program [that] empowers students from every corner of the U.S. by giving them the opportunity to learn about—and experience—government policies and methodologies firsthand,” in addition to participating in

  • Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA), an organization that “inspires and prepares= students to become community-minded business leaders in a global society through relevant career preparation and leadership experiences”;
  • the Black Women’s Round Table, a National Coalition on Black Civic Participation (NCBP) program that “serves as the organization’s intergenerational leadership development, mentoring, empowerment, and power-building arm for Black women and girls”;
  • the SpeakFirst Debate Team, a program that gives Birmingham City Schools “middle and high school students the opportunity to engage in co-curricular competitive debate”;
  • the Girl Scouts, an organization that gives girls the opportunity to participate in a broad range of activities and learn practical skills to better themselves and their communities;
  • Ramsay High School Academy of Law, a certified National Academy Foundation (NAF) academy designed for students who have aspirations of working in the legal profession
  • G.A.P. (Girls Aspiring with a Purpose), which is a dedicated mentoring group that aims to empower young girls by providing them the necessary life skills to navigate various challenges and opportunities.

“Ramsay has helped me evolve because I am exposed to and allowed the opportunity to join different activities and academies, [as well as] Youth & Government,” Davis said. “I love it, and it is something I am very passionate about. It is what got me into writing more and speaking my opinions more.”

Work Ethic

A typical day for Davis starts around 5:30 in the morning. “I have a routine that I follow in order to prepare for my day,” she said. “I try to get in some exercise, then I start preparing to go to school and attend my classes.

Her days usually consist of meeting with the different clubs and organizations she is part of, including “FBLA, Youth & Government, and the debate team,” she said, adding that she also is a member of Key Club, “an international, student-led organization that provides its members with opportunities to provide service, build character, and develop leadership.”

Key Club, founded in 1925, is the high school branch of the Kiwanis Club International service organization.

Davis, born and raised in Birmingham, is the oldest of her brother, Tyrone, 13, she said, “[He] is the joy of my life. He inspires me to do a lot of the things that I do.”

She also is inspired by her parents—her mother, Conswella, and father, Tyrone, a truck driver, —who, she said, keep her motivated and provide much needed support.

“My parents inspire me a lot,” said Davis. “My mom is very outspoken. As a pharmacist, she has always had a hardworking work ethic. My dad is a huge historian, so a lot of the history I know comes from [him].”

Passion for Activism

Davis took interest in becoming an activist when she was in fifth grade at Birmingham’s Advent Episcopal School.

“We had a project we had to complete for Black History Month, [and] I chose [to focus on] Thurgood Marshall because he was the Supreme Court’s first African American justice.

“Reading his story and looking into what he wanted to do and how he was able to make a societal change moved me to possibly pursue the same thing,” she said of Justice Marshall, a lawyer and Civil Rights activist who played a key role in ending segregation in American schools before being named to serve on the nation’s highest court.

Davis would like to attend law school and follow in the steps of Marshall, who died in 1993, and current Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson.

“Not only is [Jackson] the first Black woman to hold to a position as a Supreme Court justice, but she is also the first former federal public defender to serve on the Supreme Court,” Davis said. “Her grace and class [during her Supreme Court confirmation hearing, where she was treated as if she were on trial by the U.S. Senate], really inspired me. It made me feel like I can do or be anything.”

Some of the other key figures Davis looks up to are Civil Rights icon the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and renowned poet and Civil Rights activist Maya Angelou, as well as former U.S. President Barack Obama and current Vice President Kamala Harris, both of whom are the first African Americans to hold their respective offices.

And now there are others who look up to her, following her award-winning essay.

“My essay is about youth advocacy and how the youth were still able to have an impact. I came up with subject after I read Dr Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech, ‘A Time to Break the Silence.’ [My essay], which took me five days to write, states that people should advocate for themselves when they think a law that affects all people is unfair,” said Davis.

Favorite Things

Although she has accomplished a lot in her 17 years, Davis said her biggest accomplishments thus far have been getting the scholarship and getting baptized at Kingdom Builders Birmingham, pastored by Dr. Milton Wren Jr. and Lady Angela Wren.

“I love the Lord, and I love my church family,” said Davis. “Being baptized at 16 really affected me for the better. It changed my life.”

Her favorite hobbies are arts and crafts, especially with Canva, an online graphic design tool, and she’s learning how to cook, as well. She also enjoys reading and watching movies.

“My favorite book is [the 2014 National Book Award-winning memoir] ‘Brown Girl Dreaming,’ by Jacqueline Woodson, [who recalls her early childhood, growing up as an African American girl in the 1960s, and how her experiences led her to becoming a writer]. My favorite movie is ‘Marshall,’ [a 2016 film about Supreme Court Justice Marshall, starring the late Chadwick Boseman in the title role],” said Davis.

Davis’s contest winning essay:

Kingian Nonviolence: It Starts With Me

By Tyra Davis

The power of nonviolence has been and time again throughout history as a catalyst for social change. In the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., this year’s breakfast focuses on children and the 60th anniversary of the Crusade, a defining moment in the civil rights movement. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. written essay and digital essay contest encourages students to delve into Dr. King’s writings, especially his speech “Time to Break the Silence,” and explore how his legacy can shape the cultural climate of our society.

In May 1963, more than 5,000 schoolchildren, now known as the “Foot Soldiers,” marched through the streets of Birmingham, Alabama, demanding an end to segregation and racial injustice. The Children’s Crusade became a turning point in the struggle for civil rights, showing the courage and determination of young people. Their actions not only emphasized the urgency of change, but also exposed the harsh reality of discrimination to the nation and the world.

Inspired by the teachings of Dr. King, Kingian Nonviolence is a philosophy rooted in love, compassion and belief in the power of nonviolent resistance. By learning and practicing the gift of nonviolence, people can contribute to changing the cultural climate toward understanding, empathy, and equality. This approach emphasizes the importance of dialogue, reconciliation and changing relationships through non-violent means.

Kingian Nonviolence offers a framework for addressing systemic inequality and injustice by promoting community and shared responsibility. It encourages people to recognize the humanity in others, even in adversity, and to seek a peaceful solution instead of violence or aggression. By embracing nonviolence, we can challenge harmful stereotypes, dismantle oppressive systems, and create lasting change that benefits everyone.

Dr. King’s speech “Time Break Silence” delivered in 1967, it recommended an end to the Vietnam War and discussed the implications of social justice. In this powerful speech, he called for a revolution of values and urged people to break their silence and take steps against injustice. In addition, his writings, which are collected in the publication “A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.,” give a complete picture of his philosophy and principles. Dr. By reading and understanding King’s works, we gain insight into his legacy and the tools needed to achieve positive change.

Dr. King’s teachings on nonviolence go beyond mere tactics; they encompass a way of life that promotes justice, equality, and compassion. His words remind us that the fight for civil rights and social justice is ongoing and requires constant vigilance. By studying his speeches and writings, we gain a deeper understanding of the strategies and principles that guided his work. We learn the importance of nonviolent direct action, the power of collective organizing, and the necessity of addressing the root causes of inequality.

The Children’s Crusade serves as a reminder of the power of youth activism and the potential for positive change. By embracing Kingian Nonviolence and incorporating Dr. King’s teachings into our lives, we have the ability to shift the cultural climate towards one of peace, justice, and equality. Let us honor the bravery of the Foot Soldiers and the vision of Dr. King by committing to the study and practice of nonviolence in our communities.

Together, we can create a society that reflects the ideals of compassion, understanding, and unity that Dr. King fought for. By engaging in open dialogue, promoting empathy, and challenging systems of oppression, we can foster a cultural climate that values diversity, inclusivity, and social justice. It is through our collective efforts that we can build a better future, one where the principles of Kingian Nonviolence guide our actions and shape our cultural landscape. It starts with us.

Updated at 3:38 p.m. on 2/2/2024 to add more information.