Eva Bell Davis: A Transformational Leader

Another Atlanta angel has left us. Though Eva Bell Davis died on Monday, it is her life of service and advocacy for the poor we celebrate.

Born in a small South Georgia town during tough economic times of the 1930s, racial segregation and limited educational and employment opportunities Davis’ destiny could hardly have been imagined. She leaves a legacy of love coupled with her visionary contributions to public policy that has transformed the lives for thousands of Americans. As the spirited leader in her community she shaped the future of Atlanta in the 21st century as much as anyone else of her era.

According to Davis, the East Lake Meadows public housing project, which was better known as Little Vietnam in days, was a hellacious place to live.  When the opportunity arose for the neighborhood to partner with developer and philanthropist Tom Cousins and his family emerged in the mid 1990’s, Davis was ready for the challenge.  Along with the help of the Atlanta Housing Authority and its astute President Renee Glover, Davis’ advocacy for the the residents of East Lake birthed a plan that transformed the community and the people into a vibrant, sustainable mixed income neighborhood, the Villages of East Lake.

As a mother, grandmother, community leader and policy advocate Davis demonstrated enough mental toughness and political savvy to help develop a neighborhood transformation model which is heralded as a national model today.  Few understood the power of the partnership between Davis, Glover, and Cousins in 1996.  Few expected this powerhouse trio to persist through the disagreements, misunderstandings and misgivings. They did and Atlanta and the families of East Atlanta are the beneficiaries.

Judged by her work Eva Bell Davis is a giant. The transformation of the East Lake neighborhood – Charles Drew Charter School, East Lake YMCA, Sheltering Arms, Villages of East Lake mixed income housing, and the retail businesses – is a shining example of how the power of a few people can change the world forever.