CLEVELAND — Hank Davis is not a teacher of math, science or even reading, but he is a teacher in its truest form.
“Ever since I’ve been with him, he’s really helped me a lot,” said Jason Sullivan, a 17-year old in Davis’s program “Individuals Collectively Overcoming Negative Situation” or ICONS.
Davis started ICONS in 2002. After serving 12 years in prison for gang-related crimes, he wanted to come back to Cleveland and impact the community in a positive way.
“ICONS is a youth advocacy, mentoring and life coaching organization,” said David. “ICONS was developed and formulated to help educate and uplift our community. We try to do be an extension to the parents and to the community”
From after-school educational trips to weekend-life coaching, to just checking in with kids throughout Cleveland, he’s done it all.
“A lot of our kids, they come from parent referrals,” he said, but kids also come to him through school referrals, police or probation officer referrals, or other community leader referrals.
“My long-term goal is to help them live,” he said. “ They come out of very traumatic community areas. I have a couple of kids whose fathers have been murdered. A majority of kids in my program are dealing with PTSD or trauma.”
When Cleveland Metropolitan School District went fully remote at the start of the 2020-2021 school year, Davis said he saw a need bigger than just after-school and weekend check-ins.
“My day starts at 6:45 a.m., every morning I pick up 7 to 8 boys,” said Davis.
For 8 months, Monday thru Friday, Davis brings those kids to his office at the Five Pointe Community Center on Cleveland’s East Side. He has transformed it into what he calls, an academic pod. The pod is a place where they can do their remote schooling, while their parents are at work. Davis provides breakfast and lunch, and then takes them home at the end of the day.
“We knew that we were in a crisis. We knew that something had to be done because an idle mind is a devil’s playground,” he said.
He said it provides peace of mind for their parents while they’re at work.
“They’re not out there participating in things that could end them in jail or in prison,” he said.
But for Davis it’s about more than just making sure courses are completed, it’s about making sure their lives are on the right course.
“Just because you’re from a certain area, you don’t have to become that area,” said Davis to the students in the pod ranging from 7th-10th grade.
Sullivan, a sophomore at Gin Academy, has been with Davis for four years.
“I had real bad anger issues and stuff,” said Sullivan. “It’s a lot different now with the help of Mr. Hank.”
He said he’s seen what some of his friends do who aren’t in Davis’s academic pod.
“With me waking every day and having him, Hank, I have no choice but to do it and it’s actually helping me staying out from being outside and being on the streets and stuff,” said Sullivan.
Davis is proud of Sullivan.
“Jason stays in an area that is known to have some gang activity in the area. Jason is a young man that knows how to rise above it he has not joined a gang, he said. “Jason is a young man that has goals.”
It’s Davis’s goal to help him achieve his.
“Money is not a reward to me,” said Davis. “To be able to save a life, to be able to change a community, to help bring some resources, to help someone, that’s my reward. Those are the proud moments for me.”
While CMSD gave students the option to return to in-person learning, Davis said the students he has in his pod are staying put until the end of the school year.