Henry Davison has been working to make Cedar Rapids a better place for young people for many years. He recounts his life story in “Henry Davison: You Can Be What You Want To Be,” a book on which he collaborated with Steve Springer, Diane Fannon-Langton and Tricia Andersen.
Davison was born in 1927 in the Deep South, only two generations removed from slavery. The book recounts his early experiences and struggles as well as his service in the army. Davison’s own words are given context by passages of historical information and media reports that provide more details about his stories.
Many of those stories, of course, are about his work in Cedar Rapids — including the founding of the Linn County Blues Society and the H.D. Youth Center.
Readers learn of Davison’s run-ins with the law, his original backpack program that has become a staple of community philanthropy, the flooding of the original youth center location on Third Street SE, and the efforts to open and sustain a new center on Mount Vernon Road.
Davison has a heart for young people in the community. In an interview with him and two of his collaborators, he spoke of his desire to “get the kids out of trouble.” He isn’t shy about laying the blame for youth in trouble at the feet of their parents, but he notes other influences.
“They’re following their buddies and following their buddies gets them in trouble,” he says.
The H.D. Youth Center is a place of kindness, but also of strict rules attendees are expected to follow. At its heart is Davison’s commitment to understanding.
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“You just talk to them,” he says of the children who come to the center. “You work out the misunderstandings.”
At some point, Davison recorded many of his memories onto eight-track cassettes. Eventually, the recordings were transferred to CD. A conversation at a Linn County Blues Society get-together with Springer, now the head of the H.D. Youth Center board, led to the creation of the book. Springer transcribed the tapes because he considers it is important to share Davison’s story.
“I want people to understand all that Henry has done and with so little means,” Springer said. “It’s a testament to what you can accomplish when you put your mind to it.”
Once the stories were on paper, Diane Fannon-Langton, a writer retired from The Gazette, dove into the research, presenting information in italics interspersed among Davison’s comments. Meanwhile, her daughter, author Tricia Andersen, interviewed a range of people who have known Davison over the years.
“Everybody had a very high opinion of Henry,” she said.
Andersen also handled the layout of the book. The project was the first collaboration with her mom, and was an experience both mother and daughter enjoyed. “She’s coming up with more,” she said.
Ishmael N. Tureaud now is the director of the H.D. Youth Center. As a youth, Tureaud was one of the kids who found direction at the center under Davison’s tutelage. “He saw my rules,” Davison said, “and that’s how he built himself up. He’s doing a fantastic job.”
Tureaud carries on the work of Davison, who said: “I’ve been working for the kids — not with them, but for them. And when you’re working for the kids, you’re working for the community.”
“Henry Davison: You Can Be What You Want To Be” is available at Barnes & Noble in Cedar Rapids, where a signing will be held from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday. Customers who mention the H.D. Youth Center at checkout will have 10 percent of their overall total donated to the center.
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The book also will be available at other area bookstores and cultural institutions like the African American Museum of Iowa. Davison encourages folks to give the book a look.
“I read the book after it came out,” he said with a twinkle in his eye. “I think we got most of it right.”
• What: Authors Diane Fannon-Langton, Tricia Andersen and Henry Davison, founder of HD Youth Center, will sign copies of the book “Henry Davison: You Can Be What You Want To Be”
• When: 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday
• Where: Barnes & Noble, 333 Collins Rd. NE, Cedar Rapids
• Cost: Free