Davinia James — A walk to remember
DAVINIA James would walk to the ends of the earth for her mom, but since that option is not viable, she has settled for walking 39.3 miles each year in her honour instead.
James' mother died from breast cancer eight years ago and five years following this devastating loss, she decided to join in the fight against the disease by becoming a participant in the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer. The most recent walk was last weekend and the 28-year-old pre-school teacher walked for two days from the Washington Monument grounds to Meadowbrook Park in Maryland before journeying back to the historical monument.
"One thing that triggered the breast cancer walks that I do every year is the fact that it was something that my mom wanted to do, but could never do. It's my way of keeping my mom alive," she said.
James was born in St Mary but at three months old she was left in the care of a community activist in Trelawny while her mom relocated to Kingston in search of making a living for her three children.
"I became very ill and it was very hard for my mom to take care of my two older brothers and myself, so the community activist took me in and I never went back to live with my mom until I was around 11," James said.
Her mom was living in Waterhouse at the time, a tough St Andrew community known for gang reprisals and violence. One day as James was being escorted home from primary school by her older brother, they were pounced upon a gunman. Her brother signalled for her to run and she managed to go and get her mom who arrived just in time to confront the gunman.
"He was still there with the gun on my brother's chest. My mom told him if he wanted my brother he would have to go through her first. He did nothing more than move out of my mother's way," she recounted
While her brother's life was spared, the family obviously shaken, relocated to Seaview Gardens and then a year later, her mom migrated to the United States while James remained in the care of an aunt.
Things were going pretty well for James until one day during class at Holy Childhood High School, she received a call from someone who identified himself as her mother's doctor. She was informed that her mother was about to undergo a mastectomy.
"I wanted to give up and everything, but then my mom's dream was for me to graduate high school, something she had never done, something no one in my family had ever done and so I graduated high school in 2002 and then two years after that I was reunited with my mom in the US," she explained.
"After being reunited with my mom, I got to understand that it was her way of protecting us, rather than just telling us because she didn't want us to worry," she said.
When her mom passed away in 2006, James said she was devastated, but she tried to remain positive.
"That was the year I got to find out who I was and what I wanted to do with my life and one thing I did was to make sure I continued with my education," she said.
After finishing college at 25, James started looking at ways she could make a positive impact on the world. She decided then, that she wanted to become a woman of change.
"It was at that time that I started fighting for things that I believe in, like finding a cure for breast cancer and educating girls in developing countries," she said.
In the second year of the walk, James was chosen to give a speech to the thousands of participants and she was also given a ribbon to symbolise her representation of those dying from breast cancer around the world. In addition to representing her mom, this year she wore the names of 40 cancer survivors on her cape.
"It's not something easy at all," she said of the walk. "I remember for my last four miles, I started crying and I wanted to stop but my mom never gave up, so I said why should I give up?"
James has also been chosen as an ambassador for Girl Rising which she joined after her mother's best friend and husband brought her to see the film of the same name. This global campaign is geared at educating disadvantaged girls in developing countries.
"It struck a nerve, because I could relate to these nine girls in different developing countries who should never have had to go through being sold, raped, slavery and all that stuff. It stuck with me and I left there thinking, what can I do, because I know what it is like to be surrounded by violence and poverty.
"In developing countries girls are viewed as inadequate and having very little value; they think that boys are the ones that should go to school and get jobs and all these things. They think girls should stay home and look about the household," James said.
As an ambassador, James is called upon to speak to girls all over, and was in fact chosen to be a presenter in New York on International Women's Day in March.
"My thing whenever I do speeches, is to empower, enlighten and inspire and I often use my story to do that. In this world, girls give girls such a hard time and it breaks my heart. It's time for us to stand with each other. I don't care about the colour of your skin, how long your hair is, it's just girl power."
But James does much more than talk, she also raises funds for the fight against cancer and also for the Girl Rising movement. For her 28th birthday, she decided to take the focus away from herself and committed to raising US$28,000 to assist with sending 560 girls in developing countries to school.
"Through Girl Rising, $50 alone can send one girl to school for the entire year," she explained.
Because she knows persons are sceptical about donating cash, she decided to collect pennies instead and one store owner in her area has contributed 500,000 pennies. Her friends have also got on board and she also encourages her students to participate in the cause.
"I tell them that they are changing the world and they are making a difference," she said.
"One girl's courage is a revolution, that's how I feel and that's what I'll stand by."