With his kinesiology degree in hand, Davon Yates ‘13 is heading home – to Washington, D.C. – to bring about change.  He is setting aside his dream of graduate school for a while to gain volunteer experience in the nonprofit sector as an instructor for community youth sports development.

“We are all capable of making an impact, of bringing a change,” he says. “It takes time. But how many of us are willing to take that long and hard path? Whether big or small, we can impact someone’s life in a positive way.”

During his adolescence, Davon was bullied. “I was considered husky,” he says.

Severe asthma kept him from activities that were too strenuous. His grandmother, who raised him, was afraid for his health. But Davon discovered his passion for recreational sports in middle school. It put him on a path to a healthier lifestyle. His passion for sports was matched by his desire to excel at school. As a result, he was awarded a scholarship of $50,000 from College Success Foundation, DC to pursue a college degree.

“That was my stepping stone.”

Davon wanted to study at one of the best kinesiology programs in the nation. He transferred from University of Akron to UNCG in 2009. Here, he found “a perfect major” with a concentration in Community Youth Sports Development (CYSD).

“UNCG is the only school in the country that has the CYSD program.” He credits Dr. Tom Martinek and Dr. Pam Brown for teaching him to be flexible in his approach and not get bogged down by set ideas.

He loved his field of study, but challenges – his transition from D.C. to Ohio to UNCG and caring for his bed-ridden grandmother who suffered from Alzheimer’s – soon took their toll. Davon landed on academic probation.

“What made me stay was the incredible staff here,” he says.

Dr. Brett Carter, UNCG’s dean of students, and Dr. Jennifer Whitney appealed on his behalf and stabilized his situation. “I had always pushed hard in academics, but this was a wake-up call because my education and financial aid was at risk.”

Davon quickly turned things around and has never looked back. On May 10, he received his degree.

Now, Davon’s goals include working as a kinesiologist to start a nonprofit organization that will offer academic scholarships to needy students. He also plans to establish community centers across D.C. to provide physical activity opportunities to children based on the Teaching Personal and Social Responsibility (TPSR) model.

“I was blessed with opportunities. I want to be that same image for someone else… As long as you have inner drive and hunger to keep striving, it will lead you to success.”

Through the CYSD program, Davon volunteered and interacted with kids at local schools, YMCAs and refugee camps. “We teach the kids how to become productive citizens. Sports and physical activity are a dynamic link.”

Davon finds a lot of his grandmother’s qualities in himself. “She was my building block on dealing with adversity and my driving force.” With her passing, Davon felt he had to grow up fast, but he is grateful that she helped him get to this point. She inspired his giving nature, his energy and his resilience to follow his dream of helping create a better world.

“I tell myself – when you impact someone’s life, it can start a chain reaction of change. I want to be the catalyst.”

Story by Aparna Das, contributor

Photography by Chris English, University Relations