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AU Senior Named White House “Champion of Change”

Kitay Davidson White House

Davidson was honored for his disability rights advocacy. Photo by Patrick Bradley.

Spam from the Highest Office

When Ki’tay Davidson saw the White House email this summer, he couldn’t believe it. In fact, he didn’t.

“I look at my phone, and I’m like, ‘I got the weirdest spam, Mom,’” he recalled with a laugh. “No one thinks they’re going to speak at the White House when they’re young.”

Then he got a call from the executive director of the National Council on Disability, and he knew things were for real.

The White House honored Davidson, a law and society senior at AU, as one of only eight individuals nationwide to be called a Champion of Change. The distinction recognizes young leaders whose work both furthers the Americans with Disabilities Act and embodies the spirit of the ADA.

To commemorate the July 1990 passing of the Act, Davidson recently spoke on a panel at the White House, discussing issues of intersectionality in disability. For him, it was an experience he’ll not soon forget.

“It was a room full of people I admire. You had individuals who led the disability rights movement in there,” he said of figures like Judith Heumann. “All of it was surreal. Just being able to have a conversation with people that have changed the world and continue to was absolutely beautiful and humbling.”

Advocacy for a Change

The White House had good reason to choose the Chicago native among their eight Champions. Growing up alongside several family members with disabilities, the issue area is now a passion for Davidson.

His work off campus has included internships from D.C. to California covering corporate social responsibility and international rights for those with disabilities. He’s even spoken on the topic in high schools and universities throughout the capital. On campus, he’s strived to raise awareness around disability-related issues with the student-led Disability Rights Coalition.

Also a member of the School of Public Affairs’ Leadership Program, Davidson credits what he’s learned for propelling him toward increasingly focused accomplishments.

“I didn’t really practice pragmatic idealism [before the program], and I think I do now. I realized that what I want the world to be can actually occur if I’m strategic. Leadership really gave me that opportunity from having to do social action projects,” he said. “The leadership program has developed so much of who I am.”

Planning to be a teaching assistant in the program this year, he’ll help underclassmen develop their own social action projects and sharpen their leadership skills as he has.

And Davidson surely will need those skills himself; his ultimate goal is to become mayor of Chicago.

On a Personal Note

Part of developing as a person and a leader has been finding a place where he felt comfortable being himself. It wasn’t until he came to AU and worked with departments like the Center for Diversity & Inclusion that he experienced the community that’s allowed him to thrive in all of his endeavors.

“I’ve had a lot of my identities affirmed, which has been awesome … I’m not sure I necessarily felt I had that opportunity or was in an environment where I could be all of who I was and have that esteemed as something valuable,” he said. “That’s also something that won’t deter my professional development but add to it.”

Davidson has already accomplished a lot while still a student. He’s a proud alum of the People for the American Way Fellowship Program and the U.S. International Council on Disabilities Youth in Development Program.

But he’s not near satisfied. He’s an advocacy wonk through and through.

As he enters his last year at AU, he knows there’s still much to be done. And that’s something he truly believes, White House email or not.

“I hope, and I think AU has instilled this in me, that you love with all your heart, and loving means giving back and advocating,” he said. “We can do more, and we should.”

 


Watch Davidson speak at the White House.

Read Davidson’s White House blog entry about the experience!