I’m not the first one to write about Chuck Davis’ legacy, and I won’t be the last. That’s how it should be. Chuck Davis was known beyond Durham as the founder and leader of the African American Dance Ensemble, but in Durham he was also known as someone you always want to see. He had presence, and not just because he was tall. Davis was someone you wanted to know. He was someone who, once he hugged you, you wanted a hug next time, too. Davis was the grandfather or uncle that we would all choose if we could. He was beloved.
Peace. Love. Respect. For everybody.
When Davis said “Peace. Love. Respect. For everybody,” and made you repeat it, it was not a call and response to ignore. What he called for, everytime, was what we should all call for, everytime. Davis embodied the best of humanity.
Davis was 80, an elderly age I suppose statistically, but I was still caught off guard when he died. I took his presence for granted. Maybe Durham did, too. Oh, there were many awards over the years. He was even the grand marshal in the Durham Holiday Parade in 2008. Durham recognized him often. But we all still assumed he would be there as he always was, forever. Because we wanted Davis to be there, and to hug us, and to remind us that there is peace, love and respect for everybody.
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I interviewed Davis one day in 2013 about the anniversary of the March on Washington. He had gone to Washington, D.C. in 1963 for the march. It was a more serious side of Davis I saw that day, but still the same Davis. I went looking in our archives for that story but couldn’t find it. Instead I found story after story about people recognizing him, and for his annual Kwanzaa celebrations and being part of the annual performance of “Black Nativity” at Hillside High School. It seems strange even to refer him in the Associated Press style of by his last name, because he wasn’t just “Davis,” he was Chuck Davis. Baba Chuck to his dancers.
Saying Chuck Davis meant something specific, something important, someone vital to Durham. Vital to the Triangle. Vital to everything. The legacy of Chuck Davis is there for dance, of course, but most importantly for all people. Because, as he said every time he spoke publicly at a gathering:
“Peace. Love. Respect. For everybody.”
Everybody. Words to live by.
I miss him. But we know he lives on, in everyone he ever met.