They Call Him Babakubwa Kwefu: We Know Him as Dr. Willie Davis
The moniker fits Dr. Davis well. Babakubwa Kwefu means “Big Daddy” and although not hefty in size, he’s huge in heart, spirit and knowledge.
He’s one of the old school, Afro-centric brothers who’s familiar with the early origins of Kwanzaa by Dr. Ron (Maulana) Karenga, professor/chairman of Black Studies at California State University at Long Beach, back in 1966, when Davis was a young college student at Grand Rapids Community College. He vividly recalls the genesis of the black nationalist organization The Republic of New Africa, founded by Robert F. Williams and Betty Shabazz in 1969, because many of his Grand Rapids friends were actively involved during the radical organization’s infancy. There’s very little that Dr. Davis doesn’t know about African American/World History which is why he founded “All Around the African World Museum” in September, 2000.
After traveling to every continent in the world except Antarctica and forty-two countries, he’d accumulated a wealth of posters and artifacts that he wanted people to experience. That’s when he decided to enlarge the posters and share them as exhibits. His collection grew so abundantly that he had to purchase the neighboring house to display a massive collection that encompassed everything from African American Inventions to the African presence in and around Europe. In the smaller rooms are exhibits on Southern and Central America whose African presence is also quite populous. “Black folks are the same everywhere,” he said. “Black folks in Utah have barber shops that serve as the hub for the community just like BW’s or Mr. B’s here in Lansing. Churches are the same wherever we go. History has dictated how we survive and is the common thread that we share. Like Bobby Womack said, there’s “Harlem in Every Town.”
All totaled, Davis has visited every state in America except Alaska and discovered similarities that connects us all. He has no qualms allocating resources for travel either.
“I spend every penny I get on travel,” he said proudly. “Some people buy clothes or cars. I spend my money on travel. I can’t take it with me so I’m going to enjoy every bit of it. I go abroad at least twice a year either on my own or as a 20-year member of the Sister Cities Commission led by Commissioner Barbara Roberts Mason. Maintaining those linkages is vital for me and I’m able to bring exciting, new artifacts to the museum, as well.”
In his travels, Dr. Davis has impacted life in Africa, Tanzania and Ghana where they purchased hospital equipment, two ambulances and enhanced the educational system. Two state grants issued by the Gates Foundation and the State Department were issued to improve the sanitation system there as well. There are number of humble Lansing residents who are revered as African chiefs in the motherland, according to Davis.
“But they’re more about the mission than the accolades,” he added.
Dr. Davis has been a go getter since his days at Grand Rapids’ Central High School from which he graduated in 1964. His college career at GRCC was punctuated by marriage and children at the age of twenty-one. However, after graduating, he continued his education at Grand Valley State University, finishing in 1971, with a B.S. degree in Psychology. He also earned a teaching certificate and started teaching school. Soon thereafter Davis matriculated to Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, MI, where he completed graduate work and relocated to the Lansing area. Davis then began doctoral studies in International Comparative Education Programs at Michigan State University. Upon completion, Dr. Davis began an eventful career in State Government that lasted for seventeen years.
After retirement, he immediately began teaching “Introduction to African American Studies” at Lansing Community College as well as “Introduction to Social Work” and “Introduction to Education”. Simultaneously, he worked with Davenport University where he taught” Cultural Diversity and Society”. Clearly the modestly dressed professor who dons mostly jeans and dashikis, has been ambitious, energetic and doggedly focused in his lifelong pursuit of education, knowledge and travel. His unassuming demeanor masks keen insight and wisdom.
But guess what he does for fun? This seventy-two-year-old “Big Daddy” loves to roller skate and has done so since he was seventeen years old! The reason I know is because when my love for skating came to a screeching halt due to a fractured femur (incurred in a near fatal car accident in 2003), I recall watching enviously as he glided across the floor without reservation or fear. When I asked if he ever fell, Davis said, “I skate not to fall. At this age, falling would not be good.” He skates twice weekly, on Wednesday and Sunday! Imagine that…
Who are his contemporaries? Dr. Melvin Peters, Rory McNeil, George Davis, Louis Sims, Jet Davis, the late Jeff Harris (Saleef Imhotep) and the late Ngeri Wali. He cited specific reasons for connecting with each but for the sake of space, I’ll just say…they provide a colorful mosaic to this uniquely multi-faceted individual who is a delightful character in his own right.
Ladies and Gentlemen, this is “Big Daddy!” BabaKukwa Kwefu.