We’re excited to welcome Marquita Davis who will lead the foundation’s early learning work. Marquita brings deep knowledge and expertise to the team, and shares our belief in the power of high-quality pre-K to not only help children get ahead, but also prevent them from starting behind.
Originally from Peoria, Illinois, Marquita joins us from Alabama where she worked—both as a practitioner and policymaker—for 28 years. Most recently Marquita served as executive director of the Jefferson County Committee for Economic Opportunity, a Community Action Agency in Birmingham, Alabama, providing support and early learning and Head Start opportunities to families in need. Prior to that, Marquita worked with two different Alabama governors, both as state finance director and as commissioner of children’s affairs, designing and overseeing Alabama’s statewide pre-K program. Throughout her work she has remained connected to teachers and center leaders to truly understand the day-to-day and what it takes to put young students on the path to success.
In this Q&A, learn a bit more about Marquita—what gets her out of bed in the morning, her favorite poem, her latest adventure, and more.
You’ve worked in early learning for more than 20 years. What inspires you? What drives you to remain committed to this work?
Early learning has been a part of my life from the start. My mom was a kindergarten teacher and had the great honor of teaching at a center designed by Dr. Barbara Bowman, a pioneer in early childhood education. I taught early childhood and early childhood development at University of Montevallo and later worked with Head Start, a program serving low-income children and families. Through it all, I’ve remained deeply committed to working on issues impacting marginalized communities.
We know that quality early learning serves as the foundation for creating healthy children and families. I continue to be excited about the possibilities in the field and I’m eager to make a meaningful impact. Underpinning this is a commitment to ensuring that we truly understand the communities we are serving.
In Alabama, you were part of a team that built a highly-respected statewide pre-K program. What was that experience like?
I am proud of what we built in Alabama. Committed to equity, we believed that all kids—whether they were in rural or urban environments—were entitled to high-quality early learning experiences. That meant that we served these children through a mixed delivery system, which included Head Start, public schools, childcare, and faith based programs. We wanted to meet the children wherever they were.
As you kick off your work at the foundation, what are you most inspired by?
On my walk to the office every day, I pass a sign that says “All lives have equal value.” I am grateful that I get to come to a place that truly believes this and is creating systemic change for children—regardless of what they look like or where they live. And making high-quality early learning accessible for all children is an important part of this mission.
You recently took a road trip from Alabama to Seattle where you’ll be based for the next several months before settling down in Washington, DC. What was your drive across the country like?
With our dog in the backseat, my husband and I drove more than 2,000 miles over three days and I was awestruck by the sheer size and beauty of our country. We saw the Great Plains in Nebraska, Big Sky in Montana, and (while I was white-knuckled driving over them!) the extraordinary mountains in Washington. Along the way I discovered how little I knew about our own country and it was a reminder to me that if we don’t take time to get out of our places and spaces and explore we will miss out on the beauty and wonder this country has to offer.
It’s national poetry month. What is your favorite poem?
Ego-Tripping by Nikki Giovanni.