When Ebony Davis ventures almost anywhere in Muskegon, it’s almost certain people will come up to her. There are those she knows and those she doesn’t. Some have eyes welling with tears; others’ faces fill with smiles. And they want to say: thank you. Please don’t stop what you’re doing.
“To me, it’s still kind of, ‘Wow, I’m just Ebony,’ but, as time has progressed, I’ve been labeled the voice of the city because I speak up and speak out about what’s not right,” said Davis, a writer and spoken word artist known as Gemini DaPoet.
For those who know Davis, it’s not a surprise she gets this kind of response. And, while she’s too humble to ever say it, her fan base is growing. Which makes sense: Davis, who grew up in Muskegon, connects with an incredibly deep sea of people: high school students struggling to find their way in a world filled with depression and violence, parents who have lost their children, neighbors who no longer feel connected to their city in the face of gentrification. When she’s not spending her days working a corporate job troubleshooting appliances, she’s filling the Muskegon landscape with her words: poetry that is meant to lift those in pain and critique those in power.
Davis has wielded her words at countless venues throughout Muskegon and West Michigan, from TEDx talks in Muskegon and Grand Rapids to Community Gathering Initiative events. She’s written poems for Muskegon High School’s Lady Reds, for mothers who have lost their sons, for a community grappling with trauma. And she’s no stranger to using her speaking skills at government meetings: after KKK memorabilia was found in a now-former Muskegon police officer’s home, Davis pushed for action from the city—which garnered coverage from the New York Times to the Philadelphia Tribune.
Now, she’s taking her talents to Racquets Downtown Grill, where she’s holding a book signing and release party on Sunday, March 1 at 3pm. There, she will do poetry readings, launch her custom-made Poetic Aspirations Greeting Cards, and field interview questions from Mickey Wallace, a radio personality on 103.7 The Beat and Davis’ cousin. At the event, which is free to attend and open to the public, there will be copies of her recently re-released books, “Look In My Eyes Through My Pain” and “The Gemini Chronicles Volume I.” She is re-releasing both previously published books of poetry before her third book, “Gemini Chronicles Volume II” debuts later this year.
“This is their rebirth,” Davis said of the two books of poetry that explore deeply difficult times in her life: a relationship that was “pure hell,” the absence of her father growing up, and the death of her daughter, Imani, who died at the age of 14 months from whooping cough.
“If it wasn’t for my daughter, the world wouldn’t have met Gemini DaPoet,” said Davis, who started writing poetry after her daughter died on March 4, 1998. “It’s been about 22 years since she passed away. During those 22 years, I’d be depressed and want to be alone. This year, I decided to honor her instead of being sad. People talk about how hard it is to be a teenage mom, but, without her, I don’t know where I’d be. She saved my life.”
In many ways, Sunday’s event is a tribute to Imani and the impact she continues to have on her mother—especially when it comes to Davis’ focus on empowering Muskegon’s youth, Davis explained. As part of the book release and signing, Davis will hold a raffle of two of her books and a custom-made poem written by her, and a portion of the proceeds will go to Lauren James, an elementary school student from Muskegon who has launched an anti-bullying campaign.
“As adults we’re so quick to write off our youth, but they are our future; we have to make sure we have something to pass on to them,” Davis said.
“I love what I do, and I do it for the city—but I especially do it for the city’s youth,” she continued.
As part of her focus on city youth, Davis supports the Muskegon High School’s girls basketball team—this past Friday, for example, she presented each of the players with a framed poem, and every Friday she spends her day volunteering with Muskegon High School English classes. In those classes, she is teaching poetry and writing to the students. This week, for example, she worked with students to break down a Tupac Shakur song and explained how it’s poetry. Ultimately, the goal is to have the students perform their poems for a group of Muskegon and Muskegon Heights lawmakers, police chiefs, and other area leaders.
“When they speak, it should give them an idea of what we should implement in the community,” Davis said of the students’ performance before city leaders. “If we can get those politicians to hear what is important to our youth, we can start to make those changes. We’re bringing in all these tourists, but the kids don’t have anywhere to go to be kids. And then we get upset when they turn to the streets. If we don’t give them an alternative, how can we expect them to go the straight and narrow?”
As she spends time with the city’s younger residents, Davis is determined to provide them an outlet they may not find in other adults—students will even call her late at night if they’re faced with trouble.
“I always give the youth my card; I give them my card even more than I give it to adults,” Davis said. “I want to be their outlet. If your back is against the wall and you don’t know what to do next, you can call me. Call me before you do something you regret for the rest of your life.”
Davis dreams of the day students can grow up feeling entirely safe. For that safety to come, she emphasized, the entire community must rally behind its youth—they must acknowledge the violence that is occurring, why it’s happening, and how they can truly—and repeatedly—show up for the children and teens who are facing unprecedented levels of trauma, Davis said.
“Adults don’t always understand because we didn’t bury our friends in high school,” Davis said. “We didn’t hear of kids dying almost monthly growing up. Kids now have their friends dying and then have to get up and go to school and be a normal kid, when what’s going on is not normal.”
Davis herself knows a number of the young men who have been shot and killed in recent years, including her nephew, Davion Hewlett, who died at the age of 15 in 2017. She also spent time with Mervin Bonner, who was shot and killed this past August, just before he was supposed to head to college.
“I spoke to a group of young men, and I said, ‘You guys are quick to shoot now; why?’” Davis said. “With a straight face and no hesitation, they said, ‘We don’t want to have to shoot, but I’m not going to go to a fight without protection because I’d rather have my mother visit me in a jail cell than go to my funeral.’ One of those young men was Merv [Bonner].”
“A lot of our youth have lost hope,” Davis continued. “Their friends have been killed. All they see is violence. And they don’t trust the police.”
To further advocate for the city’s younger residents, Davis is using her platform to push for more youth-friendly development—and development that incorporates the voices of children and teenagers in the planning stages.
“You can’t tell people what’s best for them without talking to them,” she said.
“There’s nowhere for the youth to go,” Davis continued. “We have all this redevelopment happening and not once have they stopped to build our kids an outlet. In the neighborhoods there’s nothing for them to do.”
Davis knows her criticism has not garnered her a crowd made up solely of fans; she knows there are those who wish she’d go away. But, she emphasized, she’s here to stay—and her criticism is coming from a love for Muskegon and a desire to see her city be able to lift everyone who lives here. She wants the youth to feel hopeful about staying here, instead of dreaming of leaving.
“I don’t want to leave and fight for somewhere else; I want to give back to my home,” she said. “I want to fight for the city who made me who I am.”
The Gemini DaPoet book signing and release will take place Sunday, March 1 from 3-7pm at Racquets Downtown Grill, located at 446 W. Western Ave. in downtown Muskegon. The event is free and open to the public, but those who plan on attending are asked to register beforehand by clicking here. For those who are unable to attend but would like to purchase a book or connect with Gemini DaPoet, please message her on Facebook by clicking here.