A Commitment to Service: DeCarol Davis' Journey from Home to the Military to LAS-ELC

Though now living in California, our incoming law clerk DeCarol Davis considers Darlington – a tiny, rural town in South Carolina – her home. Her whole family lives down South, and Darlington is where she goes home for the holidays. DeCarol comes from a loving, hard-working family, some of whom have been employed as hotel maids, security guards, truck drivers, sanitation workers and teachers. She saw up close the abuses people face on the job, especially low-income people of color, and this is part of what inspired DeCarol to pursue a career in employment law.

In 2004, DeCarol joined the U.S. Coast Guard so that she could attend college. She learned about military service academies from her high school basketball coach. As money was hard to come by, DeCarol chose to attend the Coast Guard Academy because the school was tuition-free and guaranteed a job after graduation. Coming from a long line of military veterans, joining the Coast Guard seemed like an exciting next step, and one that would enable her to get ahead without going into crushing student loan debt. But it was a mixed blessing. On the one hand, she got an amazing opportunity to learn, grow and succeed. At the same time, the Coast Guard has been called the whitest branch of the military, and DeCarol found that women and minorities could be made to feel like they didn’t belong.

Of her entering class of 304 cadets, DeCarol was the only African American woman. During her senior year, nooses were found in a Black cadet’s bunk and in the office of the Director of Civil Rights. But the Academy administration simply chalked these incidents up as the work of “a few bad apples.” DeCarol was called the “Token Black Girl” and even received anonymous, threatening emails, prompting her to consider leaving the academy. But her family kept her strong. Her mom told her to “just keep moving forward.”

And keep moving she did, getting her degree in Electrical Engineering and graduating as valedictorian and top cadet of her class, the first African American to do so. After graduation, she worked for six years as a commissioned officer in the Coast Guard, where she worked as an inspector, enforcing labor and employment standards and health and safety codes on ships. She spent nine hours a day doing her actual job, but also spent her many “off hours” on call, hopping onto ships in the middle of the night to respond to marine casualties. Seeing up close just how hard service members work, and the difficulties they can face both during and after their service, strengthened her desire to advocate for workplace rights, and led her to law school.

Now that she has finished her first year at UC Berkeley School of Law, DeCarol sees a clear path that led her from home to the military to LAS-ELC and employment law. Says DeCarol, “I want to help people who do the hardest jobs for the lowest pay. I want to take that knowledge – of the law, of the system – and put it to work for those who are most vulnerable in our communities, those who are often used and used up.”

DeCarol will be working in our Community Legal Services program this summer as one of 11 “Robert M. Dell Student Advocates” who will be helping us provide free legal services to low-income workers. We are thrilled to welcome her and her colleagues this Memorial Day, as they will strengthen our ability to protect the employment rights of low-wage workers, including service members and veterans.

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