Michelle Davenport CAPS’12, GS’15 named CAPS/GS Alumna of the Year

Michelle Davenport overcame years of abuse and health challenges to follow her dream of helping others and furthering herself through education, but she credits her success to the woman who raised her.

By Jason Schoonover ’09, content specialist

August 16, 2018 | 11 a.m.

Michelle Davenport

Michelle Davenport overcame many obstacles thanks to a drive to better herself through education. Today, she works at Hennepin Healthcare and continues a family tradition of serving the less fortunate.

Michelle (Washington) Davenport CAPS’12, GS’15 remembers sneaking across her elementary school to serve as a sort of nurse to a disabled girl named Laura. She wiped her nose, sought care for her when she needed it, and questioned why her friend and others with disabilities were often kept separate. “That’s been in me all my life—taking care of someone else who can’t take care of themselves,” she says. 

When school officials noticed Davenport leaving class, she got into trouble—but not with her great-grandmother, Flossie Washington. “[My school] did call Nana, and she came around the corner to the school and she said, ‘She’s just doing what I taught her to do—to show love,’” Michelle says.

Washington, who raised Davenport until she was 13, continues to inspire Davenport. Davenport credits Washington for teaching her to serve the less fortunate and to value education. “She said, ‘People can take everything away from you. They can take away your car, your house, your food, your money, but they can never take your education away from you,’” Davenport says.

Those lessons helped Davenport overcome many hardships, and today she strives to give back to the less fortunate and to her fellow nurses. As a clinical care supervisor/clinical nurse educator at Hennepin Healthcare, Davenport works each day to prepare and encourage new nurses. But her coworkers and those around her describe someone who goes above and beyond, which is why she’s Bethel’s 2018 Alumna of the Year for the College of Professional Studies and Graduate School. “She’s a mentor in various capacities, not only here at the job, but in her personal life as well,” says coworker Melissa Hill.

Davenport traces that to her great-grandmother. Washington, a widow, operated a successful hand-laundry business and owned her own brownstone in the Harlem neighborhood of New York City despite, as Davenport later learned, not being able to read or write. And she cared for the needy in the community, especially the homeless, prostitutes, and addicts.

After Washington died in 1980, Davenport remembers many of the people she served came to pay their respects. “When the hearse was pulling away, caps came off and they saluted her,” Davenport says. “And I was like, wow, she made a difference.” That day, Davenport committed herself to carry on her great-grandmother’s legacy of caring for the less fortunate. “I was proud to be her great-granddaughter,” she says. “Because she cared for so many.”

She made good on the promise right away. At 14, she started as a candy striper—or a teenage volunteer—at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. “I loved taking care of people and helping them get better—to see them get better,” she says. She graduated from Clara Barton High School for Health Professions in Brooklyn, New York, with a nursing assistant certificate and plans to become a doctor. But she married around the same time, and her ex-husband became abusive and forced her to quit school to work as a bank teller.

During years of abuse, Davenport recalls praying that it would stop. Though Davenport returned to the health industry and became a nursing assistant after moving to Minnesota, the challenges continued. She returned to school at a community college, where a counselor told her “people like you will never be successful in our RN program,” referring to her race. The counselor instead urged Davenport to apply for the LPN program. Michelle graduated with honors in 1991.

After she suffered a stroke in 2004, Davenport again leaned on her faith and felt God calling her. “Two words came to me: ‘It’s time,’” she says. She set out to continue her education but almost abandoned her plan after issues surfaced while transferring past classes to start at another area college. But then she received a postcard from Bethel University and attended an open house. “I came to the open house and from that very moment I knew that’s where I was supposed to be,” she says.

With programs tailored for working adults, Davenport felt supported by Bethel’s faculty as they helped her continue classes when her grandmother Gwendolyn Washington died in 2012, which required her to return to New York for most of a semester, and she was diagnosed with diabetes in 2015. “Going to Bethel was the best decision I ever made,” she says. “The faculty was so supportive. They are dedicated and committed to their job. They really are.” She earned her B.S. and M.S. in nursing from Bethel.

“I love being able to encourage this younger generation of nurses because someone took the time for me. So I want to take the time to encourage them, mentor them, guide them.”

— Michelle Davenport

After all her challenges, Davenport still credits her great-grandmother for her success. “I’m very proud of who I have become, and it’s because of my great-grandmother saying, ‘You can make it. Don’t ever let anyone take away your education,’” she says.

Today at Hennepin Healthcare, Davenport strives to help in honor of those who helped her—from her great-grandmother and grandmother to her Bethel professors and beyond. “I love being able to encourage this younger generation of nurses because someone took the time for me,” she says. “So I want to take the time to encourage them, mentor them, guide them.”

Hill praised Davenport’s compassionate spirit and heart for underserved populations like immigrants and those in the greatest need, like the homeless and addicts. “She has integrity, which is really rare these days,” Hill says, adding that Davenport has true integrity, not just lip service.

Davenport has also held many leadership roles in her local church, House of Praise Church of God in Christ, the larger Church of God in Christ, and she served as a spokeswoman for the American Heart Association’s Go Red campaign, appearing on billboards around the Twin Cities and on several news programs. Michelle will also be the featured speaker at the American Heart Association Annual Heart and Stroke Gala in September.

Davenport eventually remarried, and she is also raising four of her 11 grandchildren—a 12th is due later this year—and she is working to teach them to give to those in need. “I told them: When I leave this earth, you all continue this because this is where we came from,” she says. “This is what Flossie Washington showed me how to do. You always think of those that are less fortunate than you.” 

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