Ready for a Change, She Ran for MayorMay 15, 2013
Though she never met an architect in her small town of Cornelia, Georgia, Audrey Davenport grew up with an affinity for housing and architecture. She could visualize floor plans and remembers “wanting to take the tops off of houses and look in to see how people lived.” Davenport knew that architects use a great deal of mathematics in their work but as she got older she talked herself into believing she wasn’t good at math. Instead, she focused on her skills in drawing and visualization. But that nagging love of architecture never left.
When her daughter left for college, Davenport stopped to ask herself what she wanted, and the answer came easily. She enrolled at the Savannah College of Art and Design, where she got her bachelor’s degree in architecture, followed immediately by a master’s in the same field. Then, in 2008, she received an AAUW Selected Professions Fellowship. The award was proof to her of the important work that AAUW does. Put in architectural terms, Davenport says, “AAUW is the mechanism, the mechanical system hard at work for a big cause. It is the powerful but low hum, a vibratory hum that has been working for women for decades.”
For Davenport, architecture is much more than buildings. She says, “I am less interested in buildings themselves than in how they impact the people who use them.” Architecture is a “kind of social art” that impacts people, economies, and communities.
When Davenport finished her master’s she moved back to her hometown of Cornelia to, as she put it, “care for and appreciate” her mother. In returning, Davenport saw how the community had changed, even worsened, over the years. “My natural inclination, if I’m living in a community, is to become involved,” she explained. And become involved she did. Davenport mentored young people, took on small architecture projects, and began to pay more attention to the city government. Once, she casually mentioned to her sister that one day she’d run for mayor. Her chance soon came when the mayor passed away halfway through her term. Though she did not feel completely ready, Davenport decided to go for it.
Utilizing the support and advice of local activists, The 2012 Project, and her own passion, Davenport “just went for it!” She felt she had the necessary characteristics for a community leader, namely a genuine care for other people. Her biggest campaign challenge and greatest accomplishment was knocking on doors — lots of doors. “It was a daunting task to face neighborhoods, not knowing how I’d be received. But I liked how I had to overcome the fear. I met a lot of different people and I got to have face-to-face conversations about concerns people had with the town.”
Davenport did not win the election, but she gained insight into her community and her own skills. Her advice to other women thinking about running for local office is to (1) plan ahead of time so that you are ready by the time the next election comes along, (2) know what goes into campaigning and evaluate your weaknesses beforehand, and (3) get out into the community so that you become a visible political figure long before officially running.
Davenport has also gotten involved in civil rights museums in her area. While studying in Savannah, she became involved with the Ralph Gilbert Civil Rights Museum. For Davenport, it was an opportunity to remind people that the civil rights movement is an ongoing struggle.
Back in Cornelia, Davenport is the curator of the Regional African American History Museum of Northeast Georgia, housed in the equalization school that served four counties of black children before integration — which also happens to be the school that Davenport attended until second grade.
Fearless, confident, and capable, Davenport offers a model for all of us to follow our passions. As she said, “I have a global vision, but I think locally. I start where I can.”
This post was written by Fellowships and Grants Intern Emily McGranachan.
Want to make a change but not sure where to start? Our National Conference for College Women Student Leaders trains and encourages young women leaders every year.