A Legacy of Leadership from One Generation to Another

The cover of the June 17, 1974 edition of Time shows an all-American family: a husband and wife sit with their daughter beaming behind them; in front of them, the son and pet German Shepherd sit on the floor. All are smiling, stylishly dressed, although the son’s outfit is more than a fashion statement – he’s sporting a crimson Alabama football jersey.

This wholesome snapshot of life in the mid-1970s conveys the highly sought-after suburban American dream, an idea further explored in the cover story titled “Middle-Class Blacks: Making It in America.” The article chronicles a rising African-American middle-class family, a previously almost unheard-of trend. In fact, statistics cited in the article show that, although more than a century had passed between the end of slavery and the magazine’s publication, significant strides toward economic equality were not made until the 1960s. Because of the cover story’s historic nature, this particular issue of Time is on display in the National Museum of African American History & Culture in Washington, D.C.

J. Mason Davis, the Birmingham, Alabama attorney, husband and father on that magazine cover, brings its existence up as almost an afterthought in conversation about his storied life, although with a list of accomplishments and accolades as long as his, it’s easy to see how it could slip his mind. Among these achievements is one he holds especially dear: serving as the first African-American Chairman of United Way of Central Alabama’s Board of Directors in 2002, highlighting his lifelong commitment to UWCA’s work in the community.

“I began giving to United Way – at that time it was called Community Chest – when I was six years old, as part of Tuggle Elementary School’s Pennies Campaign,” he said. “When I became a Senior Partner at Sirote and Permutt, I was encouraged to join the newly formed Tocqueville Society, and I’ve been giving at that level ever since. Over the years, I’ve found that the more you give, the more you get.”

In the fall of 2019, another addition to Mr. Davis’s long list of honors came to fruition with the launch of a new UWCA leadership society that bears his name. The J. Mason Davis Leadership Society brings together changemakers working to positively impact the African-American community through a shared affinity for philanthropy, leadership, volunteerism and advocacy. Given his long relationship with United Way and tireless efforts during the Civil Rights Era, Mr. Davis perfectly exemplifies this vision for the group.

Community volunteers like Mr. Davis serve as a guiding light for the next generation of dedicated philanthropists. At only nine years old, Phillips Academy student Ethan Hill has spent the past few holiday seasons putting together care packages filled with lifesaving supplies for people experiencing homelessness. His work has earned him an Ignite Award nomination, as well as praise from Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin.