By Charles Hallman
Keith Davis was a living example of someone who learned from one generation and gladly shared it with the next generation. He died June 19, only a month and two days after his 57th birthday.
Not a pew was empty last Saturday as the community crammed the sanctuary of New Bethel Baptist Church on 30th Avenue North for Davis’ home-going celebration. “God gave us 57 years to spend with Keith,” Davis’ pastor, Rev. Johnny Hunter, Sr., told the gathering.
Born in Omaha, Davis moved with his family to Minneapolis’ North Side at age three and graduated from North High in 1974. “He spent 54 years there — he had no desire to live anywhere else,” says his older sister Joyce.
Davis as a youngster got involved in sports at the Phyllis Wheatley House, where he honed his athletic skills and where he watched grown Black men give themselves to the next generation. Davis took those lessons to heart, and as a result, an entire new generation of young Blacks found someone who cared about them in every facet of their lives.
Many youngsters he’d influenced, coached, tutored and pushed over the years, either at Phyllis Wheatley, Glenwood Lyndale, the Y on Broadway or at his North High alma mater, later would become prep and college stars, says Rene Pulley, who grew in the same neighborhood.
“Tamara Moore, Khalid El-Amin, Brett McNeal — he let them come out [and play] when they didn’t have memberships or couldn’t afford memberships,” Pulley recalls. “Keith opened his arms and his heart to all the kids in North Minneapolis. He always was around to give the kids and youth a helping hand, and gave them encouragement. I can’t say enough about [him] — I loved Keith Davis.”
Davis was fondly known as the “Mayor of North Minneapolis,” and he duly looked out for his “constituents.”
“Keith was one of the few guys that were influential and got me recognized as a basketball player,” says McNeal, a former Minnesota Mr. Basketball as a North High Polar who starred in college at Western Kentucky and later coached at North, where he won a state boys’ basketball championship.
“He promoted summer basketball and summer camps,” says McNeal. “He wrote [to various basketball publications] that we had big-time basketball players in the state of Minnesota. Keith was the Dickie Vitale for Minneapolis basketball.”
“Keith was great with the youth, and they loved him to death,” continues Pulley, who recalled the time when Davis was a North Memorial Hospital patient. “The hospital was really frustrated because 2,000 people came to see him. You don’t get 2,000 people over the course of a day in the entire hospital, yet alone come to see one person.”
Before the memorial service, Johnny Martin, a junior high classmate of Davis, pointed out, “Keith will be irreplaceable.” During the service in his tribute, Martin said, “Keith Davis was not just my best friend — Keith Davis was everyone’s best friend.”
“My uncle was the nicest man you want to know,” says Davis’ nephew Rayjahn Hunter, 22.
“When I was seven years old, Keith gave me a baseball, a basketball and a football…and when I was 10 years old, he gave me a magazine [to read],” remembers Michael Talley. “He could give you information that was retainable for you.” Like his mentor, Talley is doing the same with youth today.
“Almost everybody you see in this place is a product of Keith Davis,” noted McNeal.
“No doubt about it — Keith was the Mayor of North Minneapolis,” declared a proud Pulley. “He will be greatly missed by the entire Northside community. And by me.”
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to email@example.com.