THE POWER OF “OPPORTUNITY & WILL” WITH RECE DAVIS, A MEMBER OF THE SSA TEAM AT THE PITTSBURGH ZOO & PPG AQUARIUM
“It’s funny how the little things in life can play out in such a big way. An interview can turn out to be a career. A handshake can become a life long partnership. A few words can inspire someone to accomplish the unthinkable. To be honest, I’m the product of such opportunities – SSA was my vehicle; and allowed me to dream big and set out to accomplish more. In my opinion, SSA represents the relationship between hope and opportunity. And it’s been one of the most rewarding parts of my journey with the company to see so many people find a stepping-stone to further their growth.” – Tim Brantley
Rece Davis is a perfect example of such an experience. Some might say that he’s the poster boy for how this company can impact a community. His story is truly inspirational… And we’d like to share it with you, in hopes that it will make you think about your 2015 goals moving forward.
“Gunshots echo through my life. Bang! A kid I’ve known since he was born is found shot to death lying in an alley in our native Pittsburgh.
Bang! I attend a vigil marking the year since gunfire took another friend’s life. Bang! My brother, just a year older than me, is sentenced to life for killing two people-friends so close I called them cousins. Bang! Another brother, two years older, sits in jail, waiting for his day in court on an attempted murder charge.
I can almost feel the bullets whizzing past. Bang! My best friend is paralyzed from the waist down, struck by a random bullet as he walks beside me to the corner store.
I’m only 22. I struggle to keep violence from claiming me. I struggle to make sense of my life in Homewood, Pittsburgh’s most violent, poverty-stricken neighborhood. I struggle to keep my head up.” – Rece Davis
The journey for Rece started when he was 15, and he spent the next two years clearing brush and planting trees around Pittsburgh with the Student Conservation Association (SCA) whose mission is to train tomorrow’s conservation leaders through providing internships in parks across the country. He also started working at the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium with the SSA culinary crew in 2009.
“At first I built trails, cleared debris and planted trees around the city, but neither my life nor my attitude changed much. Then I got the chance to be part of an SCA crew at Sequoia National Park in California. Suddenly, surrounded by trees that seemed to touch heaven, the world seemed full of possibilities. I spent my 18th birthday among those giants and I sat at the base of one, reminiscing about all of my friends and relatives who had never left Pittsburgh, and some who didn’t live to see 18. I realized I was squandering an opportunity to make a better life for myself.
I came home a different person. I never used to care about litter, for example, but when I got back home, I organized a recycling program at my high school and became known as Recycling Rece. My school, Westinghouse High, has some of the lowest test scores in the country. No one expects much from the kids who go there and, believe me, the students know it. But other students saw what I was doing and offered to help and prove the skeptics wrong.“
“I graduated in 2011. While the old me would have had no prospects, SCA helped me develop leadership skills and showed me a world beyond my small cocoon. It also helped me define and set goals. I plan to finish college with the aim of becoming a park ranger.
I’m not naïve. Planting a few trees won’t stop the violence that has touched so many parts of my life and community. But that doesn’t deter me from trying to become a beacon that my young neighbors can emulate. I persist for 16-year-old Vernon Rogers, shot four times on September 10; for Dayjon Parker, 19, whose vigil I attended on September 9, one year after he was shot and killed; for Angela and Manning Proctor, who they say my brother killed in 2012. He was sentenced to life in July. I do it for my other brother who sits in jail awaiting trial. I carry on for my best friend, paralyzed by a stray bullet when we were just 16.”
Rece also still works at the zoo where he mentors other employees. John Monroe, Assistant Director of Human Resources for SSA, said Rece is an example of a true survivor. “He could easily move out of his violent stricken neighborhood, but he doesn’t want to,” he said, “His dream is to gain experience as an Urban Park Range and return to his community and make a change. He wants to give back to a community that has only taken from him.”
Rece also attributes a good portion of his leadership skills and professional knowledge to his experience with SSA. He cited his experience with the local management team – specifically Eli Grill (Area GM) and John Monroe – has given him a new perspective on life and the impact he can have on others.
“While working at the Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium for SSA has given me the leadership skills and the dedication to want to better myself. I work at a wonderful place and with a great staff that has pushed me to learn the skills that now come naturally to me. I’ve learned how to communicate better, be reliable and the importance of being consistent.
I’ve realized that my “dream” of being an urban park ranger and an advocate for my community is just a reach away thanks to my perseverance in trying to climb the ranks within SSA. Despite the things going on in my personal life, I always try to not let anyone see its effect at work – I keep a bubbly personality and I make sure I bring a smile to my fellow employees and our valued guests. It gives me something to be proud of when I go home. That why I love working at SSA and the zoo. As the echo of violence keeps my dream alive, I try to get as many hours as I can so that I can afford to further my education and show my community that I can overcome adversity. This job has helped me realize my full potential. Instead of being the next victim, I will be the next leader.
I’ve realized that my ‘dream’ of being a urban park ranger and a advocate for my community is just a reach away thanks to my perseverance in trying to climb the ranks within SSA. While I have all these things going on in my personal life, you could never tell while I am at work because of my bubbly personality. I make sure I bring a smile to my fellow employees and our valued guests. It gives me something to be proud of when I go home. That’s why I love working at SSA and the Zoo. As the echo of violence keeps my dream alive, I try to get as many hours as I can so that I can pay to further my education and show my community that even with all of the adversity that can happen; this job has helped me realize my full potential. I won’t be the next victim, but I will be the next leader.”
Over the next few months, SSA will introduce several new initiatives to help break through some of life’s barriers and create more opportunities for individuals like Rece to be successful. The goal of these initiatives will be to nourish a culture that welcomes and supports individuals who want to live their “dream.” Reece is one person with an incredible story….and we look forward to discovering many more.