2008 Youth Scholar - Jamaal Davis, Southern High School, Durham, NC

Jamaal Davis

"Over the years Jamaal has grown to be a dedicated activist for a range of civil liberties issues, health care access and youth as well as a talented public speaker and a role model for those around him. Jamaal is a fantastic ambassador for the NYCLU with every imaginable audience."


Learn about the other 2008 Youth Activist Scholarship winners > >

Jamaal Davis is a dedicated leader in the New York Civil Liberties Union's Teen Health Initiative. Since being chosen as the group's youngest Peer Educator at the age of 14, Jamaal has worked diligently to promote civil liberties. Jamaal has consistently conducted more outreach in his community and presented at more workshops than any other Peer Educator in the program- giving dozens of presentations across New York City about critical reproductive health services. Additionally, he started a workshop with his church youth group to inform his peers about access to health care like HIV/STI testing; participated in a demonstration against the Patriot Act, "A Funeral for the Bill of Rights"; and has marched for immigrants' rights. Jamaal recently moved from his native New York to Durham, NC where he worked at a pharmacy to ensure that those who used the pharmacy knew their rights, particularly about obtaining birth control.

Jamaal's Scholarship Essay

My mother was a civil liberties activist because she was a New York City corrections officer. She witnessed too many incidents where inmates were abused and mistreated; she vowed to do what she could to stop brutality inside the jails. She was a key witness in criminal proceedings prosecuting a fellow officer for excessive force. Most people in her position would have disregarded the inmate or would have lacked the courage to take a stand, but she didn't. I believe civil liberties are in my blood.

When I first learned about my rights as a citizen in America, I also realized that they were under attack. I was in the ninth grade when I first heard of the ACLU. Like too many other teens, I wasn't aware that there existed an organization specifically for civil liberties in the U.S. I became an activist as a peer educator for the Teen Health Initiative of the NYCLU, the New York affiliate of the ACLU.

The Teen Health Initiative was founded by a group of lawyers ten years ago in response to the lack of knowledge teens had about their rights. THI focuses on the rights of minors to access health care confidentially. This is important because without the fear of a parent finding out about procedures, many teens would be proactive about their health. Statistics have shown that teens are more likely to get access to health care such as HIV/STI testing and substance abuse care when they know it will be confidential. I decided to set up a workshop with my church youth group because many of my peers didn't know their rights. In fact, health class wasn't offered during the school year at my high school; I had to attend summer school to take health. Everyone deserves access to the knowledge necessary to protect themselves. The information we presented in the THI workshop was definitely beneficial to them. To this day, my friends thank me for the information in the workshop and have asked me how they too can become activists.

THI encourages peer educators to take part in things around our community to advocate for civil liberties, or "activist actions." This has taken the form of signing a written letter to an elected official, participating in a rally and attending social functions to raise money and awareness. My first activist action was when I attended my first demonstration, the "funeral for the Bill of Rights." This demonstration took place in Union Square to protest the Patriot Act. The Patriot Act was a major civil liberties violation because it allowed the government to spy on its citizens. I was proud to be one of the pallbearers for the Bill of Rights. Working with NYCLU, I learned about rights I didn't know I had.

I have always looked up to the people in my church but they tend to believe in stereotypes of all sorts. People talk about building a fence around the borders of this country and that disturbs me. There isn't even a gay-straight alliance at my school. Some people spread rumors and deal differently with people they are afraid of and that's unfair. I try to point out unjust treatment because not everyone can fend for themselves.

After growing up in New York City, I moved to North Carolina for my senior year following my mother's death in February. Here, I work at a pharmacy after school where I help people get their prescriptions filled. Around the country, some pharmacists are refusing to dispense emergency contraception because it violates their religious beliefs. In New York City there's a Duane Reade pharmacy on every corner, but in the rest of the country these refusals limit access – so I make sure people know their rights.

The United States needs people to stand up for everyone's rights. I feel fortunate to have found the ACLU. The ACLU Youth Activist Scholarship will allow me to get a college degree so I can continue my mother's legacy as a civil liberties activist and defend all of our rights. The fight will be long and hard, but it is surely one that needs to be fought.

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