Through much of elementary school, home life was tense for Desmond Davis. Playing baritone horn in the school band turned out to be a safe place.
“At the time I was playing to, I guess, escape what was going on when I was at home,” he says. “School was like another home.”
Especially the band room.
“That was a place where I know I can express myself truly and fully,” he says. “And when I got into band, I felt like that’s another family.”
Family matters to Dez. So does survival.
His mom and dad divorced by the time he got to middle school. Before that, he lived in South Oak Cliff. Life was scary.
“In the area I grew up in, where I stayed with my mom, most of those kids don’t even make it out of high school,” he said. “And I said to myself: ‘I can’t be like all these other kids that’s around my neighborhood.’ For the most part, I just don’t want to be a statistic.”
After his parents split, Dez says dad got custody based on his mother’s neglect. With his father, he moved out of Oak Cliff. But dad’s a long-distance truck driver, gone for weeks at a time.
Dez had to find other places to live.
“So for the past six years, I was moving from place to place to place,” he said. “I’ve been to a total of 12 houses during that time period.”
The Dallas Independent School District classifies Dez as homeless. He never spent a night on the streets, but came close. He’s among the 70 percent of homeless kids in Texas known as sofa surfers, staying with relatives, cousins or friends.
Band in his blood
By high school, Dez was back in South Oak Cliff living with his grandmother, who has diabetes.
“It used to be nerve-wracking,” he says. “I had to wake up at 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning to help her out with medicine and stuff and then I had to get ready for school. Plus, the sports and stuff, and then got to go home, do homework and do chores.”
One afternoon, near his grandmother’s place, he got robbed at gunpoint.
But life was changing.
When Dez was a freshman, he had a new band director, Jesse Warmanen.
“Desmond is absolutely a hard worker for me,” Warmanen says. “He has, every day he’s been in the program, worked to improve himself, and improve the kids around him.”
Warmanen gave Dez leadership responsibilities because he recognized band was in his blood — and the band needed help. This senior year, as drum major, he’s led the marching band.
“He shows up before school, after school,” Warmanen says. “He’s here before I get to school in the morning, waiting to get into the band hall to just work with kids, write music for himself. And anything he can do just to help out.”
North Dallas High opened more than 90 years ago. Famous graduates include Looney Tunescartoonist Tex Avery and Federal Judge Barefoot Sanders. Once at the northern edge of town, the red brick school is now nestled in a decidedly mixed neighborhood. Public housing and shelters sit near upscale shops and new apartments. Most kids at North Dallas High are minorities.
Ten percent are homeless.
This is where a man named CJ, or Charles Johnson, entered Dez’s life.
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