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Bridging Different Worlds

Marissa Davis ’08  has helped diverse communities across the United States and in South Africa develop resources to solve social problems.

early days

When she was 10, Davis arrived in Philadelphia from Jamaica with her mother and sisters. “I come from a family of folks who believe in serving other people. It’s something that you just do,” Davis says. She loved Swarthmore’s intimate learning environment, introduced to her by elder sister Mitzie-Ann ’02.
Marsha-Gail ’10, the youngest, followed Marissa.

new directions

Planning to attend law school, Davis majored in honors history after discovering her “insatiable appetite” for learning about the African diaspora in a College class. Her religion minor enriched her understanding of how the descendants of displaced Africans adapted to their new environments.

pivot point

During her sophomore year, Davis was stunned by the inadequate response to Hurricane Katrina’s devastation in New Orleans. “It revealed, in a very palpable way, the injustices I was learning about in the classroom,” she says. Davis founded NOLArize!, raising awareness of the city’s plight and providing direct aid to local communities. “I got to know the best of New Orleans through the worst of its days,” says Davis.

After graduating with honors and a Dean’s Award, she became a paralegal on housing discrimination cases and a research associate at the Congressional Black Caucus.

Foundation. Earning a master’s in public policy at Harvard also involved fieldwork with Native Americans in Montana and teenage girls in South Africa.


In January, Davis began working with RISE San Diego, an organization that develops community leadership and neighborhood advocacy through educational programs in multicultural southeastern San Diego.