Danae Davis: Growing Pearls Among Central City Teen Age Girls

Danae Davis was well along in a distinguished career in executive positions in government and corporations. But she was approaching 50, she felt she needed to do something that had more meaning for her, and she was distressed about the situations of so many young people in Milwaukee.

A friend, Colleen Fitzgerald (now an executive coach for Marquette University), was founder of a small organization that aimed to help central city teenage girls make good decisions about their lives. It was called Pearls for Teen Girls. Fitzgerald suggested to Davis that she become executive director. It paid a lot less than corporate work. But it was exactly the kind of thing Davis was looking for.

That was six years ago. Pearls has grown from serving about 500 girls a year to about 1,100. Davis says she is serious about growing it to 10,000 girls a year. And its track record is impressive – nearly 100% of participating girls who have reached the appropriate age have graduated high school on time and gone on to post-secondary education. Nearly 100% have avoided becoming pregnant.

Davis told Mike Gousha during an “On the Issues” session at Eckstein Hall on Nov. 15 that Pearls is built around small groups of girls ages 10 to 19 who meet weekly for sessions that mix fun with programs focusing on serious issues. The result is a support structure for girls to pursue constructive futures.

Pearls sessions focus largely on building up the self-esteem of girls, helping them work through personal issues they face, boosting them in their school work, and giving them coaching in how to make what Pearls calls “proud decisions.” There are currently 34 Pearls groups operating in 28 locations in Milwaukee, including schools, churches, and community organizations. About 86% of the girls are African American.

“We believe that education is the ticket out of poverty,” Davis said. “The ultimate antidote to poverty is completing your education.”

“We are part of a community solution,” Davis said, praising the work of not only Pearls but other organizations, including United Way’s campaign to reduce teenage pregnancy. She said, “I am so optimistic about our future in this community. . . . I’m involved in so many reasons to believe.”

Davis said she remains strongly committed personally to Pearls and the goal of serving 10,000 girls.

Asked by an audience member about the value of her law degree (from the University of Wisconsin), given how her career had often been in jobs that did not involve conventional legal practice, she said, “I am unabashedly a proud ambassador for alternatives to practicing law for lawyers. Because what we gain (in law school) in terms of our problem solving, our analytical skills, our ability to communicate, our ability to research, our abilities to sort of challenge things are very strong attributes and skills in almost any sector for employment.”

To learn more about Pearls for Teen Girls, click here. To view the “On the Issues” session, click here.


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