"Former Naperville District 203 school board president Osie Davenport grew up in segregated Mississippi. The daughter of two teachers, one of whom was denied access to public schools because of her race, Davenport was raised in a household where education represented the keys to personal agency. Graduating from high school in 1961, Davenport majored in math at Jackson State University and went on to earn a master's degree in computer science and statistics from University of Southwestern Louisiana. She began a career in teaching because, as she told the Daily Herald, everyone with a degree in her community taught school: "For African-Americans, a career in industry wasn't even considered." Davenport broke the mold when, in 1978, she moved from Mississippi to Naperville to take a job as a computer engineer at Bell Labs, the telecommunications research center. She and her then-husband enrolled their children in the public school system, where the student population at the time was more than 95 percent white.
In 1990, Davenport became the first person of color elected to the Naperville District 203 school board, and she became a crucial vote in the campaign to remove the mascot “Redskins” from Naperville Central High School. With no small amount of bravery, Davenport infamously questioned the racial biases of a crowd of more than 450 Redskins supporters at a July 1992 school board meeting. A 1996 recipient of the Illinois State Board of Education “Award of Excellence,” Davenport was nonetheless passed over several times for the role of school board president, despite her qualifications. “If I were a white male, with all the skills I have and all the talent that I have, how much would I be recognized?” she asked colleagues, who then criticized her as someone who “doesn’t communicate well.” Davenport persisted. Finally elected school board president in 1999, Davenport spearheaded a range of diversity initiatives and expanded the district’s anti-harassment policy to prevent the discrimination of students based on sexual orientation. Now retired, she continues to attend school board meetings and speak as a community advocate for the benefits of diversity."
Nominated by Robert Fieseler