Davon Lawrence’s passion for service was inspired by his mother. Raised in New Jersey, Davon grew up watching his mother work for the Salvation Army as an Intake Counselor. He saw the way that his community improved through the work she and her colleagues did by caring for others. From a young age, he knew he wanted to do the same.
“My love language or my passion is acts of service,” Davon said. “I’ve always wanted to work in some capacity with helping people or engaging with people directly.”
This year, Davon’s passion for service led him to AIDS Foundation Chicago (AFC) where he is the new Director of Prevention Capacity Building. In this role, Davon will collaborate with Jim Pickett, AFC’s Senior Director of Prevention Advocacy and Gay Men’s Health, and Cynthia Tucker, AFC’s Senior Vice President of Community Partnerships and Special Projects, to expand AFC’s prevention programs, create new ones and ultimately improve the lives of people living with HIV in the Chicagoland area.
Davon’s service-driven career began in the early 2000s when he worked as an after-school program counselor and early childhood assistant teacher at the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA). After working at the YMCA for a few years, Davon was eager to expand his experience, so he moved to Atlanta, Georgia to spend the next decade working for a nonprofit that supported individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
As Davon continued to develop professionally, he began to recognize how furthering his education would improve his ability to better support and connect to the communities he worked with. Davon began his pursuit of higher education at Argosy University where he graduated with a B.A. in Psychology and a concentration in Human Services. After that, Davon attended Grand Canyon University where he earned a Master of Public Health degree.
While completing his master’s, Davon pursued a fellowship opportunity to work with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in opioid use prevention and harm reduction. Davon recalls this being the first time that he worked directly in public health. The experience ultimately motivated him to volunteer with AmeriCorps VISTA as an Opioid Project Resource Coordinator in Chicago.
“I decided that I wanted to once again spread my wings and live in a different environment and expose myself to different cultures and different thoughts,” Davon said. “I lived in Georgia for 10 years, so I moved to Chicago and served in Americorps.”
When Davon transitioned from Atlanta to Chicago, he also transitioned from having employer-sponsored health insurance to being uninsured. As he began looking for health insurance that would meet his needs, he was encouraged by his peers to apply for health insurance assistance at AIDS Foundation Chicago (AFC). At AFC, Davon was met with compassion by an attentive team. The experience left a lasting impression on him.
“They were very person-centered,” Davon said. “There was no stigma. It was just like, ‘Come in. How can we help you? What do you need?’”
As his time with AmeriCorps drew to a close, Davon began to look for a new job and secured a position as a Program Specialist with Texas Health and Human Services in Austin, Texas. There, he gained experience working with a state government agency and developed and rolled out multiple prevention initiatives. However, Davon’s partner was still living in Illinois, and while they were making their long-distance relationship work, Davon knew he wanted to return to the Chicago area.
When AFC opened the position of Director of Prevention Capacity Building, Davon knew it was his opportunity to not only return to Chicago, but to also work with an organization that he respected deeply. He applied for the position and joined AFC as a staff member in August.
“The fact that we now have another really strong individual in the department at a director level will allow us to bring some ideas forward and find some new exciting projects,” Jim said. “There’s a lot of people who are well-qualified and have skills, background and experience. Davon has those things plus he has this drive and this passion that just feels like it’s a great fit for AFC.”
Among Davon’s projects at AFC, he is working with Jim and Cynthia on the Learning Circle Collaborative, a program that provides local Black and Latinx organizations with microgrants and capacity building assistance, and the Vida Task Force, an upcoming collaboration with Project Vida that supports Gay and Bisexual Latinx men in Chicago.
“I’m definitely excited to see these projects evolve,” Davon said. “As we continue to scale up on these specific initiatives I really want to target and identify what other communities we can provide a greater impact to.”
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