"If I was up there choking Arlen Specter, it would have made the news," says Larry Davis Sr. "Can the city read something positive on men and fathers for once -- and not just on Father's Day?"
Davis was "up there" on stage in Washington, D.C. on June 22 to receive one of 40 national Jefferson Awards for Public Service -- the lone Pennsylvanian to be honored with this Nobel of volunteerism. Davis was recognized for his grassroots work with the Coalition for Fathering Families, which he founded while in prison. Attending the ceremony with his daughter Latasha, he did indeed meet U.S. Sen. Specter and Rick Santorum as well as actress Cicely Tyson, longtime civil- rights activist Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, documentarian Ken Burns and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor -- everyone he hoped to see down there except the media that sponsored the local version of the awards, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, which had honored Davis and six other Pittsburghers in January.
Davis likes to share news accounts of black fathers doing positive things with the men and children in his organization. He had every reason to expect the Post-Gazette to cover awards they sponsor; they've done a story on it every year since 1998, with the exception of 2002.
"You mean to tell me you're giving me a party, but then you don't show up?" asks Davis about the P-G. "They didn't even give us the respect to tell us they weren't coming."
"Jefferson Awards recipients do extraordinary things without expectation of recognition or reward," boasts the awards program book. Davis insists he's not looking for any special treatment; instead, there's a larger issue of poor representation of black men, particularly black fathers, in the media.
Jennifer Zgurich, who handles the P-G's community affairs, denies telling Davis there would be coverage. The dues the paper pays the American Institute for Public Service to sponsor the awards, Zgurich says, covered Davis' D.C. expenses. There was "no particular reason" the national Jeffersons weren't covered this year, she adds; Davis "was a little difficult to work with," but "that had nothing to do with our editorial staff deciding not to do a story."
Davis' passionate character, with fiery tongue to match, has landed him in the P-G's pages before: In December 2002, when his daughter told her school officials that Davis beat her with a pipe, the P-G labeled Davis "loud, angry and uncooperative." Latasha was taken by the county Office of Children, Youth and Families, but Davis was cleared of what proved to be a fabrication. The P-G did run a story on the June 20 fathers' rights march that Davis helped organize.