On the surface, Owen High School senior Daniel Davis seems like a typical teenager. He’s working hard on his senior project, he just attained his Eagle Scout rank, and he’s actively cultivating a hobbyist’s interest in scuba diving. But surface appearances can be deceiving. For instance, during the last week of January, Daniel had the honor of leading a 13 person delegation into the Washington, D.C. offices occupied by North Carolina’s most powerful legislators to lobby on behalf of the blind. It was a profound experience for the 17-year-old, one which stemmed from a unique set of circumstances.
Daniel’s father Dr. Gary Davis—a professor at Montreat College (which Daniel plans to attend this fall)—is blind. And so Daniel has been intimately acquainted with the issues which are important to blind Americans for his entire life. As a member of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB), Daniel had attended the NFB’s Washington Seminar in early 2013, an annual event which draws over 500 attendees from around the country to discuss and lobby for the legislative agenda of blind Americans. And when the time came to choose a topic for his senior project, Daniel decided to build his project around his upcoming trip to the 2014 NFB Washington Seminar. But what he didn’t realize at the time was that his senior project mentor wouldn’t be able to attend the seminar with him, meaning that Daniel himself would be wholly responsible for arranging and leading the NFB North Carolina delegation’s essential lobbying meetings with its legislators.
“I thought that would make my project harder,” Daniel says. “But I guess it’s actually better because I got to do more on my own and probably learned a whole lot more than if he was there.”
In the months leading up to the 2014 NFB Washington Seminar, Daniel was busy calling and emailing the Washington offices of North Carolina’s national legislators, eventually succeeding in setting up appointments with North Carolina Representatives David Price, Mark Meadows, Patrick McHenry, and Mark Meadows, as well as North Carolina’s senior Senator Richard Burr. But setting up the appointments wasn’t easy.
“At first, it was kind of hard to get in contact with them,” says Daniel. “One office, I had to send four emails before I got any response. And another office secretary wouldn’t even give me the correct email address, even when I asked nicely.”
But eventually Daniel succeeded in setting up a series of appointments with key legislators. And during the last week of January, he and the rest of the NFB’s North Carolina delegation would lobby on behalf of the NFB’s 2014 legislative priorities: technology, transportation, and fair wages for disabled workers. As Daniel led the North Carolina delegation from office to office on Capitol Hill, he felt like they were really making an impact.
“Once we were actually meeting with the congressmen, and not their aids or their staff, they made the time to actually meet with us,” Daniel recalls. “I remember Mark Meadows, specifically, saying that what we were doing makes a difference.”
Now that Daniel is back from Washington, he is turning his attention to the less glamorous task of taking his experiences and turning them into a strong senior project. And even though he has some hard work ahead of him, he feels the unique nature of his project will give him a leg up.
“When I brought up the political lobbying idea for my senior project, they said nobody from Owen had ever done that before. And once I heard that, I knew it would be a unique senior project.”
Once his senior project is finished, Daniel says he will continue to advocate for the blind, but he’s not sure that a life of political lobbying is for him. Before leaving Rep. Patrick McHenry’s office, the congressman had allowed Daniel to sit in his desk, but Daniel wasn’t swayed by the feeling of power that accompanied the privileged perch.
“It felt pretty good to have your own desk in Washington. It was pretty fancy,” Daniel says. “And it would probably be pretty cool to be a lobbyist for different organizations. But I’m still planning on getting my business administration degree and going into some kind of business. But I’ll always help the blind out as much as I can. It’s just a good thing to do.”