MLK Activist headlines 2015 Commencement

Published: April 10, 2015 | Read Time: 3 minutes

Rev. France DavisDr. Martin Luther King Jr. marched with 600 people down the streets of Selma, Alabama in the name of equality 50 years ago. In three weeks, one of those revolutionists, Reverend France A. Davis, will address Southern Utah University's Class of 2015 as keynote speaker for the University's 116th annual Commencement Ceremony on Friday, May 1, at 9 a.m. in the Centrum Arena.

An ardent civil rights activist and renowned religious leader within the Baptist church, Davis has been heralded as a phenomenal speaker—one whose words usher in the tides of change. Learning from the very best, Davis was among the audience of 250,000 when King delivered his famed 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech.

According to SUU President Scott L Wyatt, the University is bringing Davis to campus with hopes to challenge SUU’s graduating class to “never forget the people who could use their help as they begin their professional lives.”

Of his own social impact, Davis has again and again faced closed doors, with only his actions to ease the way into more equitable times. As a college student in Tuskegee, Ala., he was dismissed from school after participating in civil rights marches. And, though he dutifully served his country as a member of the U.S. Air Force during the Vietnam War, he later joined peaceful protests against the war at Berkeley. In each of noble decision to stand against overwhelming adversity, Davis said he did not at the time realize the great potential for impact of such actions. He was simply speaking out for what he knew to be right.

Wyatt hopes the Class of 2015 moves forward into their diverse futures with similar conviction to positively impact people and communities.

“[Davis] has been one of Utah’s most articulate advocates for equality and exemplifies King’s admonition that ‘true education is intelligence plus character’," Wyatt explained. "Reverend Davis is both a very intelligent person and an individual of the highest character.”

Born in Gough, Georgia, Davis served in the United States Air Force before obtaining a bachelor’s degree in rhetoric from the University of California and second bachelor’s degree in religion from Westminster College. He went on to earn a master’s degree in mass communications from the University of Utah. Along with his academic pursuits, Davis has served as pastor to flocks in Boise, Idaho, and Utah. He officially received his certificate of ordination at the Center Street Baptist Church in Oakland, Calif.

Now serving as an adjunct associate professor of mass communications at the University of Utah, Davis has also acted as secretary of the Salt Lake Ministerial Association, a member of the South Africa Preaching Team for the National Baptist Convention’s Foreign Mission, and as an advisor of the Intermountain General Baptist Convention. he is also a regent for the Utah System of Higher Education.

Davis has written several publications, including "Light in the Midst of Zion: A History of Black Baptists in Utah 1892-1996" and his autobiography, "France Davis: An American Story Told."

Facing trials with peaceful determination and empathy for his fellow man, Davis' graduation should prove to be, as described by Wyatt, "A wonderful example to all of us at the University and in our community."

SUU's annual Commencement festivities are free and open to the public, with general admission seating. Tickets are not required, though guests are encouraged to arrive early for prime seating.

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