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Dr. Rosie Phillips Davis draws upon ‘real story’ to lead American Psychological Association

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During a Manassas High School alumni celebration (2017), Dr. Rosie Phillips Davis (Class of 1967) spiced her narrative about the Manassas of her youth with stats that helped paint a picture of the challenges that the school and its neighborhood faced 50 years later. (Photo: Karanja A. Ajanaku)

By Dr. Sybil C. Mitchell, Special to The New Tri-State Defender

      It’s not that Dr. Rosie Phillips Davis (formerly Bingham) feels she doesn’t appreciate news outlets all over the nation writing about her life and work. It’s just that that everyone keeps missing the real story.

So, what is the real story?

“The real story is that I am a product of the public-school system,” says Davis, who serves as the 2019 president of the American Psychological Association (APA). “I attended public schools and graduated from high school equipped and prepared to pursue higher learning.

“I appreciate all the coverage – an African American woman leading the nation’s premiere organization of psychology professionals. That, certainly, is noteworthy. But the real story is that I am a product of public schools.”

Davis is a proud Manassas High School graduate – one of those “I bleed blue and gold” Manassas Tigers.

She is the second African American woman to lead the APA. The gavel was passed to her from Jessica Henderson Daniel, PhD, who holds the distinction of being the first African American woman to lead the association.

For Davis, hard work, resilience and determination are hallmarks of her career. Several aspects of her childhood and personal life are intriguing and worthy, to be sure, of a closer look.

Dr. Davis is 69. She is thankful to be 69 and has never been ashamed of her age.
“There were 12 of us, and I was in the middle. Two boys and two girls who were older and one younger brother have all passed away. As I approach the age when they were passing away, it just makes me more thankful to still be here,” she said.

And then, there was the name change – from Bingham to Davis. She has been “Mrs. Davis” all along.

“I am not any relation to anyone named ‘Bingham.’ I was married briefly, for four years, when I was just starting out in my career. I had been publishing under “Bingham,” and I just thought it would be wise to keep that as my professional name. I was young, and I just didn’t know.

“After I left the University of Memphis post as vice president of Student Affairs, I just thought I would go ahead and change my name to Davis. So now, everybody in the house is named ‘Davis.’”

When Rosie Phillips was born, the family lived on Fallback Plantation. “Fallback” was one word as she remembers it – a curious name for a plantation, she admits. Her father was a sharecropper, and her grandparents were sharecroppers as well, all working the same land. Everyone lived on that same plantation in Scott, Miss. in Bolivar County.

Her mother dreamed of a better life for her children. Dr. Davis moved to Memphis when she was four.

“Some of my siblings remained there on the plantation with my grandmother,” she explains. “Some of us had different mothers.”

So, Davis moves to Memphis and gets her early education in public schools. After graduating Manassas, she attended Elmhurst College in Elmhurst, Ill. With a double-major bachelor’s degree in sociology and education, she earned a master’s in counseling and guidance as well as a doctorate in counseling psychology from Ohio State University.

Today, Dr. Davis is a well-respected psychologist who has committed much of her career to an examination of “deep poverty” and its effects on those who experience it, as well as others’ perceptions of people on the outside looking in.

As APA president, Davis’ “Initiative on Deep Poverty” will use psychological science as a catalyst to help change victim-blaming behavior and redirect the focus on changing structures that perpetuate deep poverty.

Davis will focus on three areas to change the perceptions of poverty:

  1. Collaborate with experts in the psychological science of poverty to better understand the links between poverty health challenges, both physical and mental.
  2. Raise awareness about the attitudes toward those who live in poverty and what psychological science purports about those living in deep poverty.
  3. Elevate the role of psychology in addressing societal issues rooted in poverty by changing the narrative surrounding it and the policies that contribute to it.

A compassionate advocate and practitioner, Davis believes that “injecting psychological science into the discussions around deep poverty can make a difference in the way we talk about this issue and how we write legislation to end deep poverty.”

Prior to taking the helm of the APA, Davis served on the American Psychological Association Board of Directors and is past president of the Society of Counseling Psychology. She sat on the editorial boards of several journals, is author of numerous articles and book chapters on career counseling and has co-edited two books. She is a co-founder of the National Multicultural Conference and Summit.

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