August 8, 2017

Former NFL receiver and his wife pay it forward in their adopted Chicago community

Rashied and Dianna Davis provide hope, and the tools for success, to local 3rd and 4th graders

Rashied Davis, center, co-founded the Chicago nonprofit Saturday Place with his wife Dianna, to provide mentorship and tutoring for kids from disadvantaged neighborhoods. Photo courtesy of Saturday Place

My wife Dianna and I started Saturday Place in September of 2010. At the time, I was a wide receiver for the NFL’s Chicago Bears, an organization with a commitment to community service. It is through this commitment that Dianna and I first saw the needs in communities across the Chicago area.

Having been involved with fundraising efforts for various foundations, we began to notice something was missing. We realized there is a difference between providing support and building relationships. We felt that any lasting attempt at meeting community needs would need to come from a position of accountability and commitment. Relationship building would be essential for our success.

Growing up in a neighborhood in South Central Los Angeles, where hope was considered a pipe dream, I know first-hand what it was like to navigate through an environment that did not encourage hope. You see, I come from a family of nine kids. We lost our Dad to gang violence. Life was a challenge. I credit my faith in God for my determination and my opportunities to succeed. I am also grateful to two elementary school teachers, Mrs. Dyer and Mrs. Robinson, who established a relationship with me and instilled the importance of education. These teachers invested their time keeping me focused and grounded. They taught me that my future was not a foregone conclusion and I didn’t have to become the product of my environment.

As a result, with the support of my wife and becoming inspired by the Chicago Bears community outreach, we founded Saturday Place. Our dream to give back to the Chicago community and help make a difference in the lives of the youth became a reality.

Saturday Place’s mission is to teach students how to overcome obstacles—to inspire, prepare, and provide the discipline our students need to succeed now and in the future. It is an enrichment program for 3rd and 4th grade Chicago Public school students who are performing at least one year below grade level. Every Saturday, students receive tutoring and mentorship, and activities that provide support in reading, writing, math, social studies, and science. The six-hour day is structured to incorporate hands-on learning and group activities. Students gain confidence, determination, and the skills that serve them in the classroom.

At the start of each year, students are evaluated in math and reading; they’re tested again in the middle and at the end of the year. Recent results showed significant increases in students’ academic performance in both reading (as measured by words per minute) and math, and we are working on building new partnerships to continue evaluating the students’ performance.

The success of Saturday Place starts with building relationships with the students, and combining learning with play. This goes to the core foundation of our mission. The ability to pay forward the relationship investment which was afforded to me is reflected in the results showing the impact of the program.

We are helping kids dare to dream and showing them that their dreams are achievable.

Dianna and I feel Saturday Place is an extension of our deep commitment to provide more than just a handout. We are helping kids dare to dream and showing them that their dreams are achievable. By catching them at this pivotal age, Saturday Place is building for each child a foundation, a future full of hope, and the path to accomplishments through education. We instill confidence that higher education, with discipline, perseverance and focus, is attainable.

I am living proof that coming from extreme adversity is possible to overcome. I went from the ‘hood of LA to the boardroom because of my education. Playing football for the Chicago Bears most likely would not have happened without my determination to pursue an education. Nelson Mandela once said, “Education is the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world.” Our hope is that our students at Saturday Place will use education to inspire others and develop a love of learning that will lead to making a positive impact in their communities.

My wife and I are thankful for the opportunity to pay it forward. I believe our story can inspire the students of Saturday Place to dream beyond their circumstances and environment. Our students they have the ability to choose whether or not they become the product of their environment—or the success story in spite of it all.

Rashied and Dianna Davis

Co-founders of Saturday Place

Rashied Davis is the co-founder of the nonprofit Saturday Place. His vision for the organization starts with his story of overcoming the obstacles of growing up in a poor community. It took a school bus ride to an upper-middle class neighborhood and a couple of dedicated teachers to help him see there was hope beyond his neighborhood. That first bus ride led to Rashied’s enrollment in junior college, admission to San Jose State University, and a career in the NFL. Saturday Place’s structure was inspired by influential moments in his life, recreated for kids who are starting out the way he did.

Dianna Lilly-Davis is a project coordinator in Media Relations & Issues Management with Allstate. (The Renewal Project is made possible by Allstate.) From a young age, Dianna and her two sisters understood the value of perseverance. Dianna spent her school years in the library and on the softball field, working her way toward a scholarship to San Jose State University where she met her future husband. Her dedication carried through to her marriage as she supported Rashied’s NFL dream by working three jobs to keep food on the table. Soon enough, Rashied earned a spot with the Chicago Bears. Dianna continues to support Rashied in his charitable pursuits as a strong partner of Saturday Place.
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