“Cornellians are everywhere,” says Justin Davis--even in Ghana, where Davis has been serving as a Political and Economic Policy Diplomat for African Affairs. “A good database of connections will get you far,” adds Davis, although he emphasizes hard work is important too.
Davis attributes a part of his own “pattern of success” to his Cornell connections: a Cornell program helped Davis get a fellowship from the U.S. State Department, which enabled him to receive a Masters in Public Policy from Georgetown University. And a Cornellian got Davis involved in working on President Obama’s election campaign, and played a role in getting Davis his current diplomatic position.
As a freshman at Cornell, though, Davis says the wide availability of support he received surprised him. “I never found myself without guidance, support or someone to talk to,” he says. “I never felt alone. I always had help from the college, professors, classes, and departments.” He adds that so many people were willing to mentor and guide him, he’s tried to do the same for others
Working for Change
A commitment to improving the world is reflected in Davis’ activities on campus: he served as president of both CU IMAGE (Cornell Increasing Multicultural Admissions and Gains in Enrollment) and of Black Students United, as well as chair of the Campus Life Student Advisory Committee. He is also a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Incorporated, the oldest collegiate black Greek letter organization, founded at Cornell in 1906. And through a Christian student organization Davis mentored young men at the Gossett Youth Detention Center, which he calls one of the most fulfilling and moving of his college experiences. He’s continued mentoring through the church he currently attends, coaching an all-boys step team.
Davis recounts his experience at Cornell to be like "a microcosm of a greater world. Learning to deal with the issues that surround race is a part of the college experience.” He lauds Cornell’s commitment, through its Diversity Council, to better understand the issues surrounding students of color at Cornell.
As a Resident Advisor of the Multicultural Living Learning Unit, Davis had the chance to learn about cultures from all over the world, good training for his diplomatic career. And his work as a University Tour Guide for Cornell Information and Visitor Relations gave Davis more opportunities to meet new people. He also gained a new skill: “I learned how to walk backwards,” he says, “and I never fell once.”
An Honorary Chiefdom
New experiences have been a hallmark of Davis’ time as a diplomat too, such as the visit to the village of Atwima Boko in Ghana he describes in his blog, where they made him a “progressive” chief. The honor included a plot of land and a proposed wife. Davis accepted the offerings but graciously declined a wife. “So I guess I can build a home and settle in Atwima Boko,” Davis says with a smile, though he takes his chiefly duties seriously. He’s already begun raising money to send school supplies and books for the village children.
Fundraising is not new to Davis. During his junior year at Cornell, Davis helped found Katrina on the Ground, a national grassroots initiative that raised more than $15,000 dollars and brought thirty Cornellians to New Orleans during spring break to aid in hurricane relief and reconstruction. Davis calls it “a life changing, incredible experience.”
Davis says he felt “limitless” at Cornell, as though he could try anything. But when Davis first arrived at Cornell, he expected to become a doctor. “I took many of the pre-med courses,” he says, “did pre-med summer internships and actively sought ways to enhance my chances of going to med school.” Eventually, though, Davis decided to focus on his government major. “Medicine was what everyone else wanted me to do, not what I wanted to do,” he explains. During his time at Cornell, he says he learned to be very honest with himself and his goals; instead of fearing change, to embrace it.
After more diplomacy training, Davis will soon be changing posts for another African nation, or perhaps another continent altogether. But his long-term goals include law school, a run for public office, a family, and opening a summer camp for disadvantaged young inner-city men. No doubt Davis will be reaching for that database again one day, looking for some Cornell connections.