Meet Our Students: Justin Davis Finds Healing in Arts & Calling in Youth Development

Major: Youth Development

Justin Davis calls himself a “dance nomad,” having studied a myriad of dance styles – ballet, jazz, modern, urban, swing and Latin dance. He is also a singer, actor and poet. He is, in fact, passionate about all of the arts, he said, because they have been “healers” in his life.

“There is a lot that we go through in childhood that we lock away inside us,” he explained. “As children, we don’t really have coping mechanisms, so we hide away aspects of ourselves. The arts gave me a voice.”

Davis began writing spoken-word poetry at The Wheeler School, a private school he attended from middle school to high school. He said he found poetry healing because through it he was able to expose the abuse he suffered as a child at the hands of a close relative. Spoken word, and its most popular offshoot, slam poetry, not only uses the rhythms of hip hop and blues to inject poetry with rhythm and feeling, but it is an outlet, particularly for the young, to express their emotions, frustrations and life experiences. A poet may inspire a sense of shared experience in the listener, and the individual performance will become a communal one.

In 2011 Davis became cofounder and president of SPOKEN, a RIC student club for spoken-word poets and other artists. He also performs before a live audience during Open Mic Night in the Student Union Café. Hip hop not only inspires his poetic style, it is one of his preferred dance styles, along with swing and Latin dance.

“Dance has been healing for me because it forced me to connect with my partner’s eyes,” he said. “When you look deeply into someone’s eyes, you experience their soul. And in seeing their soul, they also see yours.”

A youth development major with minors in dance and jazz studies, Davis hopes to integrate literacy with the arts. He envisions a program where theater students learn to write scripts, spoken-word poets learn to write poetry, musicians learn to write lyrics and choreographers learn to write about their concepts.

His goal, he said, is simply “to reflect back to youth who they truly are and let them know that who they are is okay. As a child, you have a good sense of yourself. But over time, you begin to mold yourself into what your family or society expects you to be. By the middle or end of your life, you're trying to get back the person you once were. I hope to breathe the same passion, joy and curiosity of a child into everything I do. Children teach us more than we could ever teach them.”

Davis feels fortunate to have found Rhode Island College, which offers the only youth development degree program in the state. Before graduating in December 2014, he plans to spend a month traveling across Europe. He is particularly interested in visiting Israel, which, he said, has some of the best youth development programs in the world.

Until then, Davis continues to refine his skills in all of the arts and to reap their restorative benefits.

See “The Frolicker,” a dance performance by Davis on the streets of downtown Providence. His choreography appears as if he is playing at dancing more than actually dancing. It is without the fiercely polished look but serves to tell a bewitching story. The video was shot by RIC film graduate Adam Tawfik ’13.

Page last updated: Wednesday, October 8, 2014