In between cleaning classrooms, buffing floors, tending to emergencies in pre-k restrooms or fixing equipment, Van Davis Sr. delivers an infectious smile and poetic inspiration to teachers, staff and principals throughout the Rosedale school community.
“How are you doing?” he often will ask me and other staffers. “Is is still sunny inside?”
If the answer is anything but yes, Davis will deliver a poem — on the spot.
“Sunshine! Not blue eyes, but blue skies,” he might say.
His metaphors are common, too.
“A floor that shines, gets walked upon a thousand times. And just like our faith gets tested … the scuff marks arise and it may get a little dull, but faith can outshine it all.”
Shortly after Davis learned of the death of a school staffer’s son, he crafted a poem. “Empty hearts leave a void that can take away your joy. When you’ve lost a loved one, it’s not the holidays that can put a hole in your heart, but it’s missing that dear soul.” Find joy in the promise of a resurrection for that dead loved one, he wrote.
Davis confronted his own grief after several of his siblings, including his sister, community activist and former Iberville Parish school board member Albertha Hasten, died in 2012.
“My heart smiles when I talk about my sister (Albertha),” Davis said. “I try to hold back the tears and think about the life she lived and the memories that will never end.”
His faith is his biggest inspiration.
“When things or situations that you are in are not going right and all you see is darkness instead of light … that is when your faith should kick in,” he wrote in one poem he shared with a teacher.
Davis also gets involved, sometimes heading up school cookouts or picking up lunch orders for teachers and principals on special occasions.
Davis and his colleague, Mr. Chaney, arrive on the school campus at 6 a.m., unlocking buildings, turning on lights, heating up classrooms during the winter, tending to the cafeteria and making sure principals have what they need for their schools.
And whether he’s servicing the cafeteria or cleaning up spills, his friendly, laid-back style makes it easy for him to strike up a conversation.
“I listen to people and then I write something that they can relate to because it’s about them,” he told me.
His poetry is humorous and encouraging. In “Empty Hearts,” he closes the poem with a reminder to the bereaved that their loved one is “getting to see Jesus and walking around heaven having fun.”
And while taking care of the school campus is important, listening to people and giving them something back is lasting, he said.
“It’s not so much the big things you do for people,” he told me. “But it’s the little things that you say that encourage and brighten someone’s day.”
Chante Dionne Warren can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.