When Derrick Davis launched his television career as a video engineer 35 years ago, it wasn’t uncommon for him to be the only brother on the production truck crew. Things haven’t changed much as he travels to various venues all around the country at 57, still in the field covering network sports as a broadcast maintenance engineer for WXYZ-TV in Detroit, an ABC-TV affiliate. Davis wants to change that. He promised his late father he would.
“You know what, you’ve got to stop complaining and do something about it. God Blessed you with a gift. Now that you know what that gift is and your purpose, why don’t you start training young people to do what you do?'” Davis recalls his dad Maurice telling him.
Davis pondered the idea for decades, strategizing with this dad over the years on how to make that kernel of insight into a feasible concept. He had a lot of ups and downs, setbacks and heartbreaks before soaking his 401K and feverishly saving for five years. In 2019, he launched a technology school, The AV Technology Institute, and a companion franchise business, Home Technology Pros of Metro Detroit. The goal of the Detroit-based school is to help young people who aren’t college-bound and are struggling with what they want to do in life. Many of Davis’ potential students will soon be entering the workforce out of high school or possibly coming out of the prison system. The franchise, which helps people install home theater systems, home networking and more, will give those who finish his program the opportunity to gain hands-on experience as interns. Unfortunately, his dad died before he could see the vision become a reality.
“Literally three days before he passed, we were sitting at the kitchen table, and out of the blue he said, ‘Did you start that school yet?’ and I said, ‘no,'” Davis recalls.
His dad responded, “What are you waiting for?”
Davis answered him, “I don’t know.” That conversation, so close to his dad’s death, haunted Davis and spurred him into action. “From that point on, I made it my sole mission to make sure that I got this tech school off the ground to give back to the community. I have funded everything I’ve done thus far. It’s all or nothing, and I believe it’s for the glory of God to do what He promised me, that vision that He set in me.”
The idea of being an educator was a hard one to adjust to, even though his dad, a pastor, and former middle school band director, had told him previously that it was in his DNA. Davis’ mom, who also has passed away, was a second-grade teacher. Several people in his family are educators, principals, teachers, and counselors.
His hesitation possibly was because Davis himself struggled in school.
“I was labeled the black sheep in the family. I was the most likely not to succeed. But I used that as a sense of motivation. The TV station that I work for is literally a half-mile from the high school where I graduated from,” said Davis, who turned a negative comment from a school counselor into motivation for success after he completed a career assessment test that revealed he could not be the cameraman he aspired to be. The counselor advised him to be a food service worker or a dietician. “I gave her a few choice words, got kicked out of school, got home, and told my dad the counselor said I couldn’t do what I wanted to do because I’m not qualified.” His dad understood his frustration and didn’t get upset with him about the incident. Even his mom saw in him what a lot of people didn’t. “She knew that I wasn’t a book genius, but she also knew I wasn’t stupid either.”
It took Davis awhile to find his way after high school. He went on to attend Tennessee State Unversity for two years, followed by earning a certificate in Radio and Television Production from the Nashville School of Broadcasting. He decided to join the Navy and was able to obtain a Certificate in Electronic Technology while there through correspondence courses.
“As a radioman in the Navy, I dealt with the radiofrequency transmission. That’s where my interest in electronics started. I worked quite a bit alongside electronic techs on the ship, and they mentored me along,” said Davis, who said that after four years in the Navy he decided to take his chances in civilian life. He worked at Dow Chemical for ten years but stayed involved in community television as a volunteer. Davis’ first TV gig was as a master control operator, and he was able to climb the ladder into roles of increasing responsibility. Now married with kids, he went back to school part-time and after six years earned a bachelor of science degree in electronic engineering technology from the New England Institute of Technology.
“It wasn’t easy…it was a struggle. I learned so much by having mentors, guys that were my supervisors or ahead of me and working hands-on in the field. You learn more when you are actually doing the job than when you are reading about a job. But my degree helped me advance my career. It helped me 20 years later get into the television station that I was told I never could get in to as a kid,” said Davis. He has four adult children and six grandchildren, and his 28-year-old son Deshon is following in his footsteps. “Today, he’s me. He does network sports, doing the same job I did when I got out of the Navy. He started from the bottom as a utility guy pulling cables and worked his way up.”
Davis’ school is in a building owned by the nonprofit Life Remodeled, which repurposed a former elementary school building into a hub of educational and vocational organizations for children, students, and adults in the community called the “Durfee Innovation Society.” In the building, Davis has two classrooms for lab work and instruction. However, his Home Technology Pros of Metro Detroit business is a virtual office and a truck.
“Right now, our country is leaning back to trade schools and trades. That was a missing demographic for years. Everybody pushed college, college, college. This is a basic low-voltage technology that builds the foundation. If you catch on and you are serious about it, you will run with it and take it to the next level,” said Davis, who, in honor of his parents, has an annual scholarship fund dinner to provide resources for aspiring young adults seeking a career in technology. “It’s been a lifelong struggle for me, but I’m blessed. I can’t complain. I thank God every day for His mercy and His grace for what I’ve been through and where I’m at now.”