“She gives hope to the hopeless,” is how Grace Coleman describes Roxanne Davis.
Coleman is the director of Crisis Center North (CCN), where Davis is the adult counselor. To listen to Coleman, Davis sounds almost too good to be true for their clients, but it is no wonder. Davis herself has survived incredible challenges, making her the perfect beacon of hope to other abuse survivors.
“She has been there. She is one of the most resilient individuals that I have ever met, and I have been in this field for over 20 years. She can breathe hope into her clients’ situations,” Coleman said.
CCN is a nonprofit providing counseling and resources for victims of domestic violence and their loved ones in the northern and western regions of Allegheny County. CCN serves residents of 23 zip codes, the largest region for women’s centers in Allegheny County.
Davis’ story is almost unbelievable. The result of a mixed-race relationship, her teen mother was forced to put her up for adoption. It was the beginning of a rocky road.
“I experienced neglect in my foster home but fortunately, I was put into another home. But I never really got a clear answer on what age I was, and I have clear memories of always crying as a very young child,” Davis said.
Born in 1961, Davis later discovered that she had suffered from depression as a child, but due to the times, it wasn’t officially diagnosed until she was an adult. “I always did well in school because I could lose myself in my studies, but I could never find out why I felt the way I did,” she said.
Despite her sadness, Davis said still did well until she was raped while a student at the University of Pittsburgh. “That started a downward spiral,” she said. She was soon in an abusive relationship, only to enter another when she freed herself from that one. Then she had her daughter.
“For the first time in my life, I had someone that I was connected to biologically,” she said. Not long afterwards, Davis was diagnosed as suffering from depression and was able to get treated.
“I describe it as ‘beginning to see color,’ and it prepared me to do the work to do better,” Davis explained. Despite ongoing struggles with her then ex-partner who continuously withheld her daughter from her, Davis never gave up hope.
“I have always had the drive to do better within me, and I thank God for this drive,” she said.
It would be nice to say that her challenges were over, but in some ways, they were gaining momentum. In the next few years, Davis’ then-partner and father to her son severely injured her, then lied to emergency medical personnel and the police.
“The police didn’t support me, didn’t believe me. I didn’t know who to turn to,” she said. From the assault, Davis suffered a severe spinal injury that was left untreated for four years. To this day, she has chronic pain.
“I don’t look at it as a bad thing. I look at it as a reminder that I am alive,” she said.
During this time, a friend from undergrad school showed up unexpectedly at her house. “She said she was in a meeting when God spoke to her and told her to come to me immediately. She left the meeting and came to find me,” Davis said.
Although Davis was in an abusive relationship, she couldn’t admit it, even to her close friend. “There is just so much shame in being in that situation,” she explained. The friend left a number for the Women’s Center and Shelter, a number that would potentially save Davis’ life. When she decided to leave her home a few months later, she had somewhere to turn.
“When I left my home, I cried. I knew that I would lose my home, but I knew I would never be free if I stayed. When I left, I felt peace for the first time,” she said. It was 2004.
“I gave it five years—typically, it takes five years to get out of a relationship and get stabilized, and that is what it took me. In five years, I had a good job, and I met my husband, Terrance Davis,” she continued.
Her job as a family development specialist was a role well suited for her experience. “I loved working with the women, but I needed to be better equipped,” Davis said. She enrolled in a Master of Counseling program at Geneva College, and through her studies completed an internship at the Women’s Shelter and Center. That work was a perfect fit. In 2018, she joined the staff of Crisis Center North.
“I love my work. My clients know that I have been where they are and survived. They see me, where I am now, and it gives them hope,” Davis said.
Coleman and clients aren’t the only ones who recognize Davis’ outstanding work. In 2019, she was named the Governor’s Survivor Activist. “It is still sinking in. I honestly never thought something like that would happen to me. It was affirmation from the governor that I was a good person,” Davis said.
In addition to her counseling duties, Davis is also handler to one of CNN’s canine partners, Ari.
“Ari adds another dimension to my work. He is able to read emotions and feelings almost before our clients even feel them,” Davis said.
An additional asset to her work is her knowledge of challenges for survivors of color, Coleman said.
“She is a survivor from a diverse community and knows the additional layers and challenges that these communities face. She not only serves as a survivor for our clients, but the award shows that she is a survivor activist for the whole state,” Coleman said.
For more information about Crisis Center North and the services it provides, visit www.crisiscenternorth.org or call 412-364-5556.