Performing jaw dropping feats on the football field, San Francisco 49ers Vernon Davis is literally a work of art who expresses his dexterity and duality beyond scoring touchdowns. The All-Pro tight end, through his Vernon and Vontae Davis Family Foundation (along with his pro football brother, a cornerback with the Miami Dolphins) support the efforts of urban youths who display fortitude and accomplishment in the arts, namely, visual artists.
Recently, Davis awarded a $5,000 scholarship to Niyjale (sounds like Nigel) Cummings in partnership with the San Francisco Arts Commission. The scholarship provides tuition support to a San Francisco youth interested in pursuing a career in the visual arts at the university level.
The uplifting affair was held at the deYoung Museum in San Francisco. Tyra Fennell with the San Francisco Arts Commission coordinates the art in schools program. She said of Vernon Davis’ ongoing involvement and the impact on youth, “With Vernon, in particular, it’s nice to take him into urban centers. He has spoken in the Bay View Hunters Point and at the Tenderloin Boys & Girls Club. Just to see young people opening their eyes to the possibilities of being an artist even if they don’t get there. Many times kids in the urban center don’t consider art as a real way of making money or a way to cultivate other interests– Vernon standing there as a football player saying, ‘I love to paint on canvas, is a very powerful tool,’ makes it real to them.”
Davis is committed to spending time with children discussing art and offered words of appreciation and support. During the awards ceremony he commented from the podium, “I’d like to take the time to thank the de Young Museum as well as the San Francisco Arts Commission for allowing me the opportunity to present this beautiful award. I grew up in Washington, D.C., in a house with six siblings, raised by my grandmother. She taught me a beautiful lesson, to never give up, always strive for your goals until you reach them. Don’t worry about what people have to say about you, do whatever it is that you want to do and never give up. I took that lesson and I ran with it. When I got to college, I changed my major from Criminal Justice to Art Studio. I was afraid to take art courses in high school…I didn’t listen to my grandmother. I was afraid that people would judge me because I was an Art major or because I like to paint. I didn’t like to play basketball so I decided to change my major. Finally, I listened to my grandmother and I did what I wanted to do. Today, I want to make sure that Niyjale Cummings, the young man we’re giving this award to, will continue to pursue art and not worry about what people have about say to him.”
Fans speak highly of Davis as a top football star.
The US Olympian draws a clear parallel to art and sport connecting the creative expression and the discipline that it takes to perform both as an artist and an athlete, explaining, “It works hand in hand. When I paint I don’t leave the canvas until I finish. When you first start painting it’s kind of scratchy, it’s blurry and doesn’t look as good as the finished product will. It’s the same as working on my skills on the football field. I’m not leaving the field until I have run the correct route. I just can’t leave until I get it right; that’s what painting is –love and anger. That’s the definition of passion: love and anger working together. Whether it’s the past, reflecting back and being upset that you couldn’t do what you wanted to do coupled with your love for football or art, whatever it is. Put it all together and you get passion.”
Breaking down the stereotype that some may have toward him as an artist, Davis asserts, “I just go with the flow. As I’ve stated, I’m not worried about what people have to say to or about me. Whether in public, or in the locker room with my team mates, I’m proud to be an artist. And that’s just something I can live with…I can live with that.”
Making a dream come true is how scholarship recipient Niyjale Cummings described Davis’ benevolence and support. To that Davis responds, “It makes me feel good because I know exactly what’s going on through his head at the moment. His vision of me was probably different before he found out that I was a painter. Now, I’m sure he respects me a little bit more and perhaps looks up to me a little bit more due to the fact that I support him with the arts– I’m not just a football player. And, maybe he perceives me a little differently. He can go back and breathe a little easier now because he knows that there’s someone cool out there that’s a painter. Maybe now his comments are, ‘You know, Vernon Davis is not just a football player, he’s a painter. So if he can do this then I can do it.’ It’s kind of cool when I think about it because I know how much of an influence that someone like me, a football player, can have on this young man’s life. It makes me feel very, very proud about being here to support him.”
Niyjale shared what art has done for him stating, “Well, art has actually given me self esteem and confidence to do a lot of things that I normally wouldn’t do. To give me the drive to actually want to push forward, push boundaries and see how far I can take it. It’s an amazing thing because many times I never thought I would be where I am right now. I mean, I could have been in the worst situation; I may not even be here right now, standing here. But with my art, I’ve been able to overcome many difficulties.”
The gregarious teen went on to describe his initial reaction upon learning he had earned the scholarship, stating expressively, “I said out loud, Whaaaat???!!! I was in shock. My grandma called me when I was just getting out of class and I thought to myself, ‘my grandma’s calling me, something bad must have happened.’ When she told me (about the scholarship) I was jumping up…I was just so happy, I was amazed. I couldn’t believe they chose me out of everybody else, it’s a great honor to be chosen …”
Bearing witness to Davis’ commitment to youth and their pursuit of visual arts, Cummings is validation. “It made me feel like I’m good, like I’ve been selected…that my art is worthy of this which meant a lot. It’s not just like a confidence builder in itself but it’s like an honor. I can walk about with my head held up high because I can say, I won this, you know. Not to be prideful or anything like that but to be chosen for my art is just amazing.”
More on Vernon Davis —
Drafted in 2006, Davis entered the 2010 season with the honor of serving as the 49ers team captain, tying the world record for the most touchdowns of any tight end in NFL history. In addition to playing in the coveted Pro Bowl, Davis represented the NFL by traveling to Afghanistan to spend time with US troops by invitation from the USO. Yet another honor came this year when he served as the US Olympics Honorary Curling Captain at the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver, Canada. Extremely close to his younger brother Vontae, a cornerback for the Miami Dolphins, Davis is credited with mentoring Vontae into the NFL. The Davis’s, both first round draft picks, belong to a small and coveted club in the NFL of brothers who play in the league.
Always a record breaker, he became an All-American football star in high school and multi-award winner setting records in the areas of speed, strength and receptions. Prior to being drafted, Davis ran the 40-yard dash in what is believed to be the fastest time ever for any tight end. He also became the highest paid tight end in NFL history at that time.
Growing up in Washington, D.C., Davis experienced the typical urban milieu shared by so many youth today and credits his grandmother with helping him navigate the shoals of that very treacherous terrain. Unflappable in her commitment to raise Davis and his five younger siblings (4 sisters and 1 brother) with her values of hard work and integrity, she never let them stray during their formative years. Davis also found enrichment in afterschool programs, which involved sports and ultimately led him to pursue a career in professional football.
Davis, an Art Studio major at The University if Maryland is also an avid painter who cites Michelangelo and the late Claude Clark as his favorite artists of all time. This spring, Davis plans to fulfill a lifelong dream by traveling to Rome to see Michelangelo’s Sistine chapel at the Vatican, further; he launched an annual San Francisco based scholarship program benefiting a deserving art student in the Bay area. His additional philanthropic endeavors include involvement in the Until There’s A Cure HIV/AIDS Awareness campaign, volunteering for youth mentoring programs and supporting drug rehabilitation centers.
The Vernon and Vontae Davis Family Foundation: hosts the Sound Mind Sound Body football academy which mentors hundreds of young high school students aspiring to college athletic careers; benefits the Starkey Hearing Foundation which provides the gift of hearing around the globe; supports Pros for Africa which takes NFL players on annual relief missions to the continent.