In April 16, 2006, a true hero went on to glory. With the death of Darwin N. Davis Sr. on that Easter Sunday morning, the black business community lost a true trailblazer and great champion — and I lost my best friend, “Double D.”
Darwin was part of the generation of black professionals we at BLACK ENTERPRISE dubbed “the Buffalo Soldiers” — the first wave of black executives in corporate America. These intrepid professionals distinguished themselves in two important ways. First, they fought for fairness, dignity, and opportunity for blacks in corporate America in the days when it was a whites-only enclave, long before diversity was even a thought, much less a core value of American business. Second, they marked a trail through a racist, unforgiving, and hostile landscape for other African Americans — as well as other ethnic minorities and women — to follow. The Buffalo Soldiers of corporate America, like the legendary African American military heroes they were named for, were tough, resourceful, and committed to completing their missions — none more so than Darwin.
I first met Darwin in the early days of BE, more than three decades ago. He was a superstar executive even then, generating more than $1 million in sales for Equitable Life Assurance Society of America. We put him on the cover for the first time in 1976, and he’d make our cover twice more during the course of his sterling career. Our readers, as well as the hundreds of executives he mentored, advised, and led, saw him for the giant he was — someone who never backed away from a fight or tolerated an injustice. All the same, he always kept his dignity. And colleagues and competitors alike had to respect him because he always delivered. Indeed, as a salesperson and corporate executive, Darwin was always a top performer among his peers, regardless of race, earning a place on our list of top blacks in corporate America in 1988.
However, as awesome as his career achievements were, what impressed me most about Darwin was that he was not that interested in being promoted by BE; he was more concerned with how he could help us! I remember him asking me, back when our magazine first appeared, “What is it you need?” I said, “We’re a black publication trying to serve a professional audience that Madison Avenue doesn’t believe exists. We need ads.” That’s all I had to say. He made it happen. We became friends and our families grew close — the bonds have only grown stronger over the years.
Darwin’s commitment to making a place for African Americans at all levels of corporate America never wavered during the course of his life. Several years ago, when I was asked by PepsiCo to chair the company’s Consumer Advisory and Ethnic Marketing Committee, I told them I’d do it on one condition: I had to have carte blanche in putting the board together. I only wanted “gold standard” members: Powerful, no-nonsense individuals who were serious about corporate diversity, who weren’t afraid to “go