Gabe Davis Makes an Impact

“We have real opportunities here to be leaders in the community.”

NAME: Gabe Davis
AGE: 36
WHO IS HE: Executive Director, City of Cincinnati Citizen Complaint Authority

Photograph by Oussmane Fall, Noir Media

Tell me about your Cincinnati roots.

I lived a little bit in Madisonville very early in my life. After that was mostly Kennedy Heights and the Finneytown area. We left the country when I was 10, moved to Jamaica, and then came back when I was 14, but even in Jamaica Cincinnati was our home base.

What age did you leave Cincinnati as an adult?

I went off to college to Yale in the fall of 2003, at age 18. I came back for a year in the summer of 2007 and worked for a nonprofit in town through the AmeriCorps Public Allies program and left again for law school at Harvard in 2008. I stayed on the east coast for a bit, primarily because of work opportunities. I worked at the Manhattan DA’s office right out of law school. After that I moved to Washington, D.C., in January 2015 and worked as a federal prosecutor for the civil rights division doing hate crimes and other civil rights prosecutions.

When and why did you move back?

I moved back here in June 2018. It was a combination of things. Primarily, our daughter was a few months old at that time and my wife and I wanted to be closer to family and be in a place we thought of as home. My wife went to Xavier, and we met through Public Allies, so we both considered this place home, and she has family in Columbus, so we wanted to be closer to them. We wanted to be able to buy a house and have a neighborhood we could raise our daughter in that was safe but also had a lot of neighborhood pride, and Cincinnati has a lot of those, which isn’t the case in other parts of the country. It’s certainly more affordable here than in D.C. or New York City, and we just love the arts institutions and the parks.

Were you excited to return or was it bittersweet leaving D.C.?

It was exciting, but we liked D.C. It’s not like we were running away from anything. Being in the center of the political universe had some appeal, and I had a good job there, but we were excited to begin the next chapter in our lives and to be able to do things like own a home and raise our daughter closer to family. In D.C. we were kind of on our own and isolated, but in Cincinnati we had support and could be more plugged into our community. D.C. is a great place, but it’s very large and there are tons of people who are already filling places of influence and connectivity. Here there are more openings to be hands on, given leadership roles, and really be a part of efforts to move things forward.

How has Cincinnati changed since you left in 2003?

It feels like a more exciting place now than it was when I was a kid. I loved it here, it was home, but now it feels like—it certainly did before the pandemic hit—a destination in some ways. An example of that is where we live in Pleasant Ridge. I grew up in Kennedy Heights next door, and it felt mostly like a sleepy part of town, and now it’s hard to get a house here. It’s a desirable area and people want to be here, and that’s good. It has this energetic feel to it. Almost every neighborhood has a brewery and restaurants, and they’re walkable. In that sense, Cincinnati has a lot of the things we grew to love about parts of the walkable east coast communities where we lived.

How has Cincinnati stayed the same?

It feels like we still have a lot of the same racial segregation that existed when I was a kid, and some of the same divisions and tensions that exist in our society exist in our neighborhoods. I think we’ve definitely done a better job than in 2001 when we had civil uprisings and unrest, and my job now deals with a lot of the same issues that were highlighted by those incidents, but I still think that we’re fighting some of those old battles and we haven’t quite gotten it right.

Has that realization inspired your work with Citizen Complaint Authority?

It was my sense that two things were true simultaneously. First is that there’s a lot of work to be done in this space of equity, racial justice, and inclusion and making sure everyone feels they’re a part of a successful city. The second thing is that the city made commitments to doing that work and, even though we haven’t solved the problem, the fact that there was this commitment and space for making progress, to me it felt like I could come here to do that work and make a difference.

What has been your favorite new discovery since returning?

It’s awesome that we have Smale and Washington parks and green spaces that are inviting and facilitate communal space sharing, where we can bring our daughter and have a picnic or kick a soccer ball and see a cross section of the city in these spaces. We’ve had a lot of fun enjoying, especially during COVID-19, the wonderful parks and knowing that on the other side of the pandemic we can go back to taking in the theater or going to the orchestra and museums, which probably to my 18-year-old self wasn’t very interesting but is very appealing now to the 36-year-old me. On the east coast those places are there, but they’re more expensive and crowded. Here we have an amazing world-class zoo and it’s usually not too crowded and traffic isn’t too prohibitive. There are a lot of things like that that are just sweeteners to the deal.

What keeps you here now?

A lot of the things that brought us here haven’t disappointed us. We live in a neighborhood we love and have a home that we’re comfortable in and a daughter who enjoys her preschool and loves being close to her grandparents and aunts. And we have real opportunities here to be leaders in the community. Back east we had jobs that we enjoyed, but here I get to be the Executive Director of the Citizens Complaint Authority and bring my ideas and energy and pour them into that organization instead of just being one of many people working for the company. I get to serve on nonprofit boards in ways that I wasn’t able to do before and get involved in local politics, and it’s things like that that just I don’t think would really exist at this level of access and intimacy anywhere else for my wife, daughter, or me. It’s not perfect, but I really love Cincinnati.

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