WSCC: From adversity to achievement

Najee Davis (Wallace State)

Najee Davis’ inspiring journey to becoming a Chick-fil-A owner/operator

HANCEVILLE, Ala. –  For Najee Davis, his time at Wallace State Community College represents a lot of firsts. He is the first in his family to graduate college. He read his first book as a student at Wallace State. It was during this time that he also experienced his first Easter.

Davis was born in Brooklyn, New York, and raised in Newport News, Virginia. He is the fourth of five children – four boys and one girl – raised by his mom after his father’s death when Davis was just 6 years old.

“Life was hard,” Davis said. “My mom was a superhero growing up. She was raising all five us by herself.”

He said with four growing boys, all of whom grew to be at least 6’ 2”, his mom struggled feeding all five of her children. “It was like trying feed the horses in the field,” he laughed. With hindsight he said he came to realize how hard his mom worked and knows he has no reason to complain about any job he’s ever had.

“She set the pace. She set the tone,” Davis said. “Watching her work, I never thought any of this was hard. I’ve been through some of the worst things you can go through, but this is nothing. If you’re telling me I have to show up and work hard, I can do that.”

That wasn’t always the case when he was younger, he admitted. “I made good grades. I was smart, but my brain wasn’t connecting certain things, and I wasn’t disciplined to sit down and do it. As I got to college…then I put energy and effort into and overcame those hurdles.”

Starting with the basics

Davis came to Wallace State in 2012 where he played one year on the Wallace State Lions basketball team before choosing to devote his time to his studies. When he arrived at Wallace State, Davis said, he couldn’t read or write past the third-grade level. So, he took all the intermediate level classes first.

“I truly learned through failure,” Davis said. “It was incredible. It’s the best way to learn. I didn’t shy away from it. I embraced that.”

He said his instructors were wonderful. “Those teachers took the time to teach me English,” Davis said. “I was fully ready for UAB when I got there and graduated UAB with a B average.” Davis earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology.

The teachers weren’t the only ones who supported him while he was at Wallace State. Through a program called Adopt a Player that paired players with local families, Davis was introduced to Pastor Jerry Lawson at Daystar Church and the Posey family. They were the largest part of why Davis came back to Wallace State after that first year after ending his basketball career at the college.

“Those families came to the games and supported us and invited us to church,” Davis said. “My family was the Poseys, Trish and Howard Posey, and they just brought me into their family, invited me to cookouts and to church.”

Trish Posey remembers first meeting Davis in the fall of 2012. “When he came here to Alabama, he was a very angry young man,” she said. “He just had a lot of anger built up.”

Lawson recalled how Davis was a bit arrogant when he first met him. “He didn’t want to listen to anyone,” he said.

“He’s still super confident,” Lawson added. “The difference is the humility in knowing that it’s God who has got me to where I am, and my faith is God is what’s going to take me forward.”

Posey said she also saw the changes in Davis.

“We watched a miracle,” she said. “We watched God take a heart of stone and make it a heart of flesh. He just started changing Najee’s heart toward God and toward people, and he started growing in the Lord and connecting with the church and being a part of the community.”

That change came after Davis attended his first Easter celebration.

“It was the first time I heard the story of Jesus and literally got saved and baptized,” he said. “That forever changed my life. I started prioritizing things differently, thinking about things differently. It was no longer, ‘Do whatever it takes to be successful in basketball.’ It was, ‘How do I grow as a new follower in Christ and how does Najee start growing.’”

A new outlook

During the summer break after his first year at Wallace, Davis went to Brooklyn and worked for a cousin’s demolition company.

“I was working sun-up to sun-down seven days a week and I was like, ‘I’m going back to college,’” he said.

He called Pastor Lawson.

“Something he said to me that I’ll remember forever, he said, ‘Show me your top five friends and I’ll show you your future,’” Davis said. “That perspective changed my life, and I called the Poseys and said, ‘Hey, can I come stay with you guys and finish school at Wallace State’ and they said yes.”

After his time at Wallace State, Davis worked with Daystar as an assistant to Pastor Lawson.

“That job was incredible,” Davis said. “We got to plant different campuses and international ministries. He coached churches all around the country and the world and I got to be a part of and assisted all of those things.”

Davis knew that he wasn’t meant to be a pastor, but he did love leading and helping people. He found the right fit with Chick-fil-A. He started what he calls his Chick-fil-A journey in 2018, working at the Cullman store from 2018 to 2020. At the beginning of 2021, Davis began working for the corporate office, traveling the country leading different teams.

A new opportunity

Late last month Davis, who is newly engaged, learned he was chosen to be an owner/operator of a Chick-fil-A restaurant in Virginia.

“That’s an incredible opportunity,” Davis said, adding that out of around 100,000 owner/operator applicants each year, the company usually selects only around 100.

Davis said he truly appreciates the success he’s had and knows it could have gone in another direction.

“Not getting to where I wanted to be in basketball, I truly understand where I took shortcuts,” he said. “We have a phrase in basketball – touch the line. That’s where you’re running drills and you’re supposed to touch the line. There are a lot of times I didn’t touch the line. Going through this process and journey, from working with Pastor Jerry Lawson and Daystar Church and then going to work for Randy Earnest at Chick-fil-A Cullman and then going to work with the Cathy family at Chick-fil-A corporate, and now going to be an owner/operator, I’m going to touch the line. I don’t want to look back 10 years from now and say coulda, woulda, shoulda.”

Posey said she knew Davis would be a success.

“He’s always been very driven, and he definitely is a called-out leader,” she said. “He’s got an amazing personality that draws people around him. No matter where he goes or who he’s around, he’s a bright light.”

“I couldn’t be more proud of him and where he’s going,” Lawson said. “I don’t feel like he’s arrived anywhere. I feel like he’s just taking his next steps and he’s continuing to build and grow,”

Davis said he doesn’t know what his dad, who taught him how to do lay-ups shortly before he passed away, would say about how far he’s come. “I know what he would feel,” Davis said. “He would be really, really proud,” he said.

His mother, he said, is ecstatic. He said she never had any doubts he would be selected as an owner/operator.

Both he and his mother work in the food industry. She is the lead chef for the Newport News Behavioral Detention Center, where she’s worked for more than 15 years.

“We love for people to rave about their food experience,” Davis said. “For me particularly, I love leading people. It’s like being part of a team, and being part of a team saved my life.”

His team now is Chick-fil-A, where they practice what’s called the second-mile service. “That’s where you see people jumping out of a window to chase people down with Chick-fil-A sauce,” he said. “It’s an incredible community to be a part of.”