JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Ribault Lady Trojans basketball star Rennia Davis has the skill, athleticism and swagger of a upcoming star. But many don’t fully understand the obstacles this high school standout has overcome to get to where she is today.
Davis graduated Thursday morning, and is headed to Tennessee on a basketball scholarship.
At 6-foot-2, the senior’s outside and inside game is just as smooth and consistent as any coach could ask for.
During the basketball season, Davis averaged 20 points per game leading the Ribault Trojans to win the Class 5A state championship. She’s an ESPN five-star prospect, and the No. 12 player in the county, overcoming the many challenges on the court. Most may not realize, the challenges off the court, that needed some attention as well.
"I think distractions and obstacles were a part of life, but I was so set on getting my AA this year and getting to the state championships," Davis said.
The AA Davis referred to is her advanced college degree that she already earned in high school from FSCJ. So, how is this 18-year-old able to stay so focused? With a lot of help from an organization called Communities in Schools.
"I would say Mrs. Cunningham is like an aunt or somebody I can call if I need something if my mom’s not around or she’s at work or I need a ride or something. Mrs. Cunningham is going to handle it," Davis said. "If she can’t do it she’ll she if somebody else can do it."
Michelle Cunningham, of Communities in Schools, is just one of dozens of counselors who provide support for 5,700 struggling students in 34 Duval County schools.
The organization serves students struggling with poverty, hunger, negative peer influences, social struggles, learning disabilities and more.
In Davis’ case, she’s one of three sisters all raised by a single mother in Jacksonville’s troubled Northside community. The ZIP code 32209 had the highest number of homicides in 2016.
"We don’t let our zip code dictate who we are," Cunningham said. "We can go beyond 32209 or 32208. We can be great and show that we’re like gems, diamonds in the rough out here on the Northside.”
Shining like a diamond in the rough, is exactly what Davis is doing, accepting a full scholarship to the University of Tennessee. Her mother, Sheretta Davis, couldn’t be any prouder.
"I definitely couldn’t have done it by myself," Sheretta Davis said. "I’m a strong single parent but I couldn’t have done it without the people god put in my path. I definitely do think It does take a village. I lot of the stuff I accomplished I wouldn’t have been able to do without.”people like my family, Miss Cunningham, coach Sheila, the support at Ribault and friends and stuff. I definitely do think it takes a village.”
Davis said she wants to go to the WNBA and eventually open her own restaurant.
Ribault High seniors graduate
Davis and her classmates weren't the only Duval County students who graduated Thursday. Ribault High School held the first of four graduation ceremonies at the Veterans Memorial Arena.
Ribault's valedictorian gave a speech that had the audience on their feet clapping, laughing and in awe. She said there are three keys to life: Believe, achieve and succeed.
Now that they've thrown their graduation caps in the air, and have their high school diplomas in hand, it's time for the graduates to chase their dreams.
Ribault High School Principal Christopher Jackson said he's proud of the graduates.
"I can think of a lot of individual students who have overcome obstacles outside of the school outside of academics and still made it to this point," Jackson said.
Derricka McDonald is a perfect example.
"My brother (Nigel Carter) he was shot in the head on Thanksgiving," McDonald said. "He always told me nobody else could ever do nothing for me I had to it for myself. I can't depend on everybody in my life, so I stepped up."
McDonald encouraged people to turn their tragedy into triumph. She added that she's glad she kept her brother in the back of her mind.
"I have up for a few, but the feeling of being done and actually being done, I don't know, it made me feel accomplished," she said.
McDonald already began courses at Florida State College at Jacksonville during high school and will continue there to become a nurse.
Thursday was also a noteworthy day for Duval County Superintendent Patricia Willis, who was hired to be a temporary replacement after the departure of Dr. Nikolai Vitti. She handed out diplomas to Ribault High graduates during her first week on the job.
"It was really, really kind of reminiscent of the years I worked at Ribault, as a matter of fact, as the assistant principal," Willis told News4Jax. "It was very special."
Duval County high school graduations began Monday and continue through next week. There are 27 total.
Click here to view the entire 2017 Duval County commencement schedule.