Jackie Robinson is where it all started for Mo’ne Davis.
To her, he was “that prominent black figure.”
In 2014, Davis became the first girl to pitch a shutout in the Little League World Series, for South Philadelphia’s Taney Dragons. At just a hair over 5 feet, Davis also became the first black girl to participate in the tournament. In 2015, she said her focus had turned to basketball. That changed when Hampton University announced on Dec. 18 that Davis committed to play softball.
Mo, as her friends call her, had an awakening in 2015, when she attended the Anderson Monarchs Baseball Club’s trip through the South. That trip opened the door for her to explore who she is as a young black woman.
“We learned a lot about [Robinson], and we learned a lot about the Negro Baseball Leagues. That was kind of where it started for me,” said Davis, who plays shortstop for Springside Chestnut Hill Academy.
After teaching in the Philadelphia public schools, Steve Bandura, Davis’ recreation baseball league coach, said he noticed that African American history was rarely included in the textbooks. He said it was important to take his players on a trip around the country to educate them on the history of African Americans in the sport.
An ankle injury last spring while playing basketball gave Davis some time to reflect. She had played AAU basketball for two years but realized the joy had disappeared. It felt more like a job. The long hours of practice and back-to-back games had become tiresome.
As spring turned into summer, Davis, who was playing softball, soccer, and basketball at Springside Chestnut Hill, didn’t have any idea where she wanted to attend college. Would she even play a sport? She reached out to softball coach Stephanie Mill.
As September approached, Davis spoke with her parents, and her mother encouraged her to look into historically black colleges and universities. She could play athletics at such colleges and also receive a good education. Hampton came up in conversation with one of her friends who is a student there and a graduate of Springside Chestnut Hill. A few days later, Davis sent emails to numerous HBCUs.
She narrowed her choices to Hampton and Bethune-Cookman University.
During her trip through the South with the Monarchs, Davis and her teammates met John Lewis, an activist and congressman who lived through the civil-rights movement and spoke about forgiving Ku Klux Klansmen years later. Her consciousness about the black American experience was ignited after that conversation; she faced harassment when she was called a terrible name in social media after the Little League run.
“I’ve kind of kept that with me. Just forgiveness. That’s one thing I’ll always remember," said Davis, who was on that trip when a 21-year-old white supremacist murdered nine African Americans during a prayer service at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C.
“I didn’t really know what was going on at the time, but I had to forgive him for saying it,” Davis said of the slur. “I bet you [that] if he would have known me as a person, he would not have thought the same thing.”
Davis’ commitment to play softball at a historically black institution came as a surprise to many. But, she was not going to attend a predominantly white institution simply to gain more exposure, she said.
“Whenever people ask me about college, I just say whatever feels like home to you," Davis said, sporting a Zach Ertz jersey over a gray Springside Chestnut Hilll hoodie. Ertz is her favorite Eagle because his wife, Julie, plays on the U.S. women’s soccer team.
“You’re there for the next four years," she said of college. “So, you don’t have to go to this big [Division I] school because everyone else is going to DI schools. Go somewhere you can start a trend and you can feel at home.”
Davis, one of two blacks on the Springside Chestnut Hill varsity softball team, said she expects to relate better to her teammates at Hampton because they might come from similar backgrounds.
Last September, Hampton head softball coach Angela Nicholson was scrolling through her inbox when she spotted an email from “Mo’ne Davis.” As her cursor hovered over the name, emotion overcame Nicholson.
“I see the name ‘Mo’ne Davis’ and ... I’m like, huh? Is there more than one Mo’ne Davis? Is this the Mo’ne Davis? I had no idea,” Nicholson said. "I didn’t even know the kid played softball. I had no idea. I knew that she was a great athlete and [had] the baseball connection.”
Davis had emailed Nicholson to ask whether Hampton was still recruiting for 2019. Nicholson replied that she was and asked whether Davis could attend an upcoming camp.
The weekend before the camp, Davis hurt her arm while pitching for her rec league team. But the Hampton coaching staff was still impressed with what they saw.
It helped that Davis’ transition from baseball to softball in middle school was smooth. Her fielding and batting skills, even with the underhanded pitching in softball, were easily transferable from the baseball field.
“She is a very quick learner and picked up on everything,” Springside Chestnut Hill’s Mill said.
Davis said she has dreams of being a broadcaster after she earns a journalism degree. That dream was cultivated, she said, when she was interviewed by ESPN’s Julie Foudy a few years ago. Foudy is the former captain of the U.S. women’s soccer team.
“She brought so much energy and kind of calmed my nerves," Davis said. “Just the way she goes about interviewing people is how I want people to feel, because I know how stressful it can get.”