ITE Youth Spotlight: Deshawn Davis

Deshawn Davis is 19 years old and grew up in Tucson. He’s always enjoyed being outdoors and remembers the first time he learned about the Santa Cruz River in school when he was younger. Deshawn said that when he learned how the river was once flowing with water and supporting a surrounding bosque, he saw how beautiful Tucson is and could be, which inspired him to care about the restoration of habitat. He was able to learn more about the environment and get outside when his mom signed him up for ITE programs when he was about 12 or 13 years old (the picture to the left is Deshawn on an EcoProgram in 2016!).

Deshawn took a break from ITE while he was focusing on high school. However, like many of us, he felt the need to get outside more during the pandemic, which encouraged him to see what ITE was up to. Deshawn reached out and joined programs online, as well as when ITE began in-person programs again. He joined his first ITE internship, Wilderness Warriors, not long after. 

Deshawn learned a lot through Wilderness Warriors and has fond memories of the times spent in nature. He especially enjoyed backpacking to Hutch’s Pool and camping in the Pajarita Wilderness of Coronado National Forest. He said that this internship introduced him to several new topics, like learning about the Sky Islands and the challenges of preserving nature. At the end of the internship, Deshawn collaborated in a small group to present this newly gained knowledge to the public. He said that was his first time presenting on a topic related to nature and ecology, and this was an experience that gave him confidence and set him on a path of pursuing his interests. 

As he learned more about the environment and his desert home, Deshawn realized that he wanted a fulfilling job that was nature-oriented and had a positive impact on the community. Luckily, he has been able to pursue this by obtaining an internship with Tucson Clean and Beautiful and the Tucson Million Tree initiative. In this position, Deshawn has done canvassing in neighborhoods and has worked closely with folks in the community to deliver and plant trees.

Most recently, Deshawn took part in the program EcoTruths for Indigenous Youth, led by Indigenous Educators and supported by ITE. Deshawn spoke about the importance of this internship in helping him honor his O’Odham heritage. Deshawn said that growing up, he felt challenges with his identity and understanding how to honor his multiple ethnic backgrounds. However, in EcoTruths, he was able to hear the voices of elders and other Native youth, which helped him self-reflect in a way he hasn’t done before. “Nature – we can’t live without it,” he said, as he reflected on how he enjoyed the opportunity to be in community with people that have similar values and points of view. “I love nature because when you’re in nature with others, no matter your background…it brings people together and connects people.”

Fittingly, Deshawn was recently a youth leader as an interpreter for the BEYOND event on The Chuk-son Trail, where he spoke about the Santa Cruz River. Deshawn was able to present based on knowledge of his home, his identity and heritage, and the knowledge gained recently through ITE programs and internships. He said it was a powerful experience being able to share the history of the Santa Cruz, what it once was, and what its future could be.

When asked what he loves about nature and his community, Deshawn said, “nature is medicine,” and he loves organizations that connect people with nature. Not only can nature help people heal, but it offers an opportunity to find other things to fall in love with, other people to connect with, and other causes to support. Deshawn is passionate about the environment, and we are proud to learn from him and have him as a member of the ITE community.