Foxy and Jason Davison
Community volunteers and co-owners of Cortona Café in Seattle
- Master's degree in Elementary Teaching, UW
- Bachelor's degree in Speech Communications, UW
- Master's degree in Secondary Teaching, UW
- Master's degree in Divinity from Covenant Theological Seminary, St. Louis, Missouri
- Bachelor's degree in History and Sociology, UW
- Teacher at T.T. Minor Elementary School
- Community coordinator for the Metropolitan Seattle Sickle Cell Task Force at Seattle Children's
- Volunteer program director at Clean Greens Farm
- Co-owner and operator of Cortona Café
- Teacher at Cleveland High School
- Presbyterian pastor
- Former Director of Hidmo Community Empowerment Project
- Co-owner and operator of Cortona Café
A sense of belonging
A few years ago, Jason saw a headline that made him wince.
Another longstanding black-owned coffee shop in the Central District—the predominantly African-American Seattle neighborhood that he, his wife Foxy, and their two children call home—was closing. A new one, owned by a relative newcomer to the area, was opening nearby.
The news seemed to confirm what they already feared: The "C.D.," as it's known to locals, was losing its classic cultural make-up to an influx of younger, higher-income residents.
And because of that ongoing trend of gentrification, "people of color struggle with a sense of belonging to this community," Jason said.
Little did the couple know that one day they'd be running that new coffee shop themselves, drawing on their UW graduate degrees to boost relations among neighbors and educate area youth.
Jason and Foxy met as fifth graders in Tacoma, Wash., where they graduated from Wilson High School, and have since taken similar paths. "I've been following her around," Jason quipped.
Soon after moving to Seattle in 1998 to attend college at the UW, they began volunteering as tutors and summer school teachers in the Central District.
Before long, the couple decided to seek more formal training in order to advance their teaching careers and obtain the necessary state certifications. "We both had a strong desire to go back to grad school," Jason said.
As graduate students in UW's College of Education, Foxy and Jason faced a challenge that had followed them through much of their schooling: the feeling of isolation that came with being the only black students in their classes. "Getting over the fact that no one looked like you and doing that in a way that didn't make you bitter" was a challenge, Foxy said.
Jason recalled occasions when he left his classes feeling angry and disappointed with his classmates. "I was shocked to see people who said they'd never interacted, let alone taught a black or Latino child before," he said. "We all hang out in our cultural bubbles."
Fortunately, they found a way to transform the experience into a more positive one. Professor Charles "Cap" Peck, who then directed the UW's Teacher Education Program, invited them to participate in a video outreach project that gave the couple an opportunity to air their views and record the experiences as students of color in the graduate program.
The project "gave us an opportunity to gain a sense of ownership in the program," Foxy said. "That was huge and really meaningful."
Another obstacle was financial. Neither Foxy nor Jason secured fellowships or other funding for their two years of graduate study, leaving them to tackle student loans and additional expenses associated with keeping their teaching certifications current.
After graduating, Foxy taught fourth and fifth graders at T.T. Minor Elementary School, while Jason taught humanities classes at Cleveland High School in Beacon Hill. Both teachers employed their graduate training to adapt culturally relevant teaching for diverse learners in Central and South Seattle. They also embarked on what Foxy pegs as her greatest adventure--getting married and having their two children, Judah and Zion. They made a brief exit from Seattle so that Jason could obtain a master's in divinity at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis.
When the couple moved back to the Central District in 2009, they resumed their volunteer work in the community—and noticed the gentrification trend seemed more pronounced. Soon after their return, they received an e-mail invitation to the grand opening of a new neighborhood coffee shop called the Cortona Cafe. They didn't realize until arriving at the party that one of the proprietors was Jason's roommate from his senior year at the UW, Will Little, who had moved to the Central District a few years earlier.
After seeing Jason and Foxy's extensive involvement in the community, including a series of forums Jason had recently led to discuss neighborhood issues, Little offered to give them complete ownership of the café in the Spring of 2010. As Jason tells it, Little decided that Foxy and Jason, with their bounty of community connections, were better equipped to transform the spot into a true neighborhood meeting place.
Jason and Foxy ultimately agreed to take on the challenge, and Little with business partner Brian Wells donated the space to a non-profit called Cortona Community at the start of 2011.
Not just a café
In addition to serving up coffee, pastries and waffles, the couple plans to provide vocational training for youth in the café and to organize events that encourage "common dialogue where neighbors new and old don't always connect very well," Jason said.
They also plan to integrate Foxy's ongoing volunteer work with Clean Greens Farm and Market, a non-profit organization launched in 2007 with an aim of providing fresh, local produce to families in the Central District and elsewhere who lack ready access. Foxy said they hope to use Clean Greens vegetables, grown on a farm about 25 miles northeast of Seattle, in upcoming menu items, such as soups and salads.
Although running a café and teaching in a classroom may seem unrelated on the surface, Jason and Foxy said their graduate teaching degrees have allowed them to succeed in both ventures.
"There's something about teaching in itself that prepares you for finding ways to connect with people, to find joys in life outside of the financial," Foxy said. "Your disposition is to serve another person...being present in that person and assessing their needs properly."
Photo by Anne Broache