Baltimore adoptee now college president
For Marian Elizabeth Wilson Davis, being the mother of a college president is more than she envisioned when she adopted a 3-year-old boy in 1972.
In the early 1970s, Davis and her husband, Belford, were in the midst of contemplating parenthood after learning that Marian could not conceive.
The Davises eventually adopted young Roger Wilson Davis, who grew up in Baltimore.
Last year, Roger, now 50, was elected as the first African American president of the Community College of Beaver County in the Pittsburgh suburb of Monaca, Pennsylvania.
Marian Davis, 91, grew up in rural Darlington, Maryland, in Harford County (30 miles north of Baltimore), as the eighth of 10 children. She attended segregated schools, and because black children were not allowed to ride the bus to school, she had to walk, she recalled.
“We were poor, but we didn’t realize it,” she said. “We had the separate water fountains and bathrooms, but it was not as bad as the terrorism that folks faced in places like the deep South — like Georgia, Mississippi or Alabama,” she said.
After graduating from Bel Air Colored High School in 1944, Davis matriculated to Morgan State College (now Morgan State University), where she graduated with a physical education degree.
She enjoyed a 40-plus career as a physical education teacher in both Calvert and Baltimore County schools. Her husband worked for Bell Telephone and AT&T, first as a janitor before retiring as a telephone booth coin-collector. Mr. Davis died in 2008.
“I’ve outlived all my siblings, my husband and all my friends,” Davis said during a recent interview. “Sometimes I feel lonely, but it’s all right.”
One fateful day
Davis remembers the day she and her husband decided to adopt Roger. She happened to turn on the television to a program on the CBS-Baltimore affiliate. Roger was featured on the segment, which was called “A Child is Waiting.”
“The little boy was on a tricycle and kept riding up to the TV camera. He was just so sweet and adventurous. I talked to my husband, made the necessary calls, and it happened,” she said, describing how the adoption came about.
The Davis family attended Union Bethel AME Church of Randallstown, Maryland. Little Roger would perform Michael Jackson’s “Moonwalk” step “in front of the whole church,” she remembered.
“I really thought he was going to be a minister. He spent so much time in church; he loved to sing, write and produce plays,” she said.
Roger was an excellent student, she said. “In school, his teachers said he was a very talkative youngster, but he was a good student and always came home with good grades.”
Davis received his bachelor’s degree at the University of Maryland, and then went on to earn a master’s degree at Coppin State University and a doctorate of education at Morgan State University.
He was an associate dean and statistics professor at the University of Maryland University College in Adelphi for almost 20 years.
This year, Davis was unanimously elected by the Community College of Beaver County’s nine-member board of directors to serve as ninth president — the first African-American to head the 53-year-old institution.
An emotional moment
Genetha Woods-Short, an African American board member, delivered the news during the February 2019 board meeting. Davis said the excitement she exhibited took him by surprise.
“She was so choked up with emotions, she could hardly make the announcement,” Roger Davis said. “I’m so humbled and really excited about what the future holds for all of us.”
Roger describes his childhood in the Woodmoor section of Baltimore County as healthy and loving.
He once met his biological mother, who answered questions that had bothered him for years.
“She explained that she was in an abusive relationship and couldn’t raise four young children,” he said. “I told her I was okay and had no regrets or blame toward her, and that God had led my path.”
Marian Davis advises prospective adoptive parents to adopt younger children before they become teenagers, if possible. She also recommends being open and honest with adopted children.
“I told Roger he was adopted soon after we got him [at age three].” She felt her honesty helped strengthen their bond.
“I just feel blessed that it all turned out so well,” she said.
While attending Milford Mill High School, he played on the tennis team and realized the value of strong academics. He matriculated to the University of Maryland Eastern Shore in Princess Anne, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in English. From there he returned to Baltimore to secure a master’s degree in adult education from Coppin State University and an Ed.D. in urban educational leadership from Morgan State University.
He celebrates the chance to direct CCBC which marks renewed interest due, he believes, to a recent economic surge in Beaver County. The construction of a $6 billion utility factory by Shell has resulted in significant job-growth in a region that has suffered for decades following the closing of multiple steel mills.
“It’s definitely a resurgent and reinventive spirit going on throughout the entire (Beaver) Valley,” Mr. Davis said.
He remains unmarried, so he has plenty of time for his four godsons and for other downtime activities including international travel and tennis.
One day he hopes to go back home to Charm City (Baltimore).
“I have a heart for Baltimore; it’s the foundation of my educational training. It’s still the place I call home,” he said.
Retrospectively, Mrs. Davis offers advice to young parents who may be contemplating adopting children.
“My advice to any family, and especially black families, is to adopt the child when he/she is still young. Up to age 8 or 9, because it becomes difficult the closer they are to becoming teenagers,” she added.