Ebonee Davis Is Not Your Ordinary Fashion Model

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Imagine being told that you're not good enough. That your kinks and coils--the completely natural version of yourself--are only accepted when there's a quota to meet, and that the likelihood of you being on the cover of a magazine is few and far between.

For many models of color, walking into a room for casting calls is often a fight to celebrate the spectrum of beauty in a world that gives more applause to straight hair and porcelain skin. But while being true to oneself hasn't always been in fashion, Ebonee Davis is out to change the rules and defy the stereotype.

The 25-year-old Calvin Klein model is no stranger to speaking out on the complexities of the fashion industry and its archaic way of thinking. In fact, she's been heralded for her very open letter published back in 2016's Harper's Bazaar, in which the 5'9'' stunner called to action the industry's responsibility to be more inclusive in its representation.

"[I'm] just getting strong after essentially years of programming that tells you you're not worthy, that you're not good enough, and that how you are made naturally just doesn't fit the standard," she shares on our evening phone call, in which I quickly discover that her looks are nothing compared to her dazzling spirit.

I ask about her recent feat of earning the coveted crown as one of the 2018 Sports Illustrated Rookies of the Year, one which, according to Ebonee, was a win that took her by surprise, considering her history with the renowned sports publication.

"I was actually featured in Sports Illustrated in 2016 as part of the model search competition, and I didn't end up winning, so I wasn't in the magazine. I figured that my time with Sports Illustrated had reached its end, so to get the call to come back for 2018, especially after all the changes I've gone through with myself, my career, and just becoming [more] vocal and speaking out about the fashion industry, it was just such a huge surprise for me."

Gotham/GC Images

In 2012, the Seattle native moved to New York at the age of 19 with nothing to her name. "I literally started from the bottom when I was out here," Ebonee says as she details her time sleeping on the floor while in pursuit of her career. "I just [wanted to] taste the dream. I felt like it was what I was meant to do--this was always my calling."

In the beginning stages of her career, the outspoken model succumbed to the cookie-cutter beauty standards of the industry. It wasn't her proudest moments, but compromising at the time was the currency for staying booked. "I compromised for so long," she admits. "I think that is an important part of the story. I did wear my hair a certain way for so many years because I thought that was the standard. That was the standard that was being shown to me. [One day], I walked into my agency at the time with my natural hair, and I got negative feedback. [But going natural] was something deeper than what they could tell me. I felt like I had to do this."

"Going natural was something deeper than what they could tell me. I felt like I had to do this."

The transition wasn't easy. It required her to dig deep, identify the roots of her conformity, and get real about who she was when the weaves were taken out and the relaxers wore off. "Ultimately wearing my hair straight was a habit or behavior, and as I matured and started to become more authentic, in order to move in a certain direction, I had to stop and ask myself, 'Is this helping me get to where I need to go? Am I presenting myself in the most authentic way possible?' Because that is always what's going to get you further."

Fast forward two years later and Ebonee is still sticking to her vow of realism while reaping the rewards of what comes with being true to oneself. Tired of wearing long beach-wave weave, she decided to risk her career by making a life-altering decision to cut her hair and wear it in its natural state. Fortune favors the bold, and the budding supermodel has managed to stay booked and blessed despite daring to rock her natural hair, a move that is not often embraced from darker-skinned models by the industry.

Ebonee's decision to go out on a whim and eventually win is a decision worth reckoning. Quite often, the risks that come with going against the grain is anything from being Blacklisted to straight up canceled. It's hard not to be inspired when hearing the pride in the voice of the now 25-year-old, as she boasts about the modeling world's slow acceptance of broader beauty standards, crediting the industry's growth to the current cultural and political climate of today's society.

More important than her physical growth is the growth within herself. The high fashion model proudly gives praise to the most high for her mental transformation. "My biggest self-care tip is 'Give it to God.' Like, that's number one in my life. I really feel like my belief in God is what changed my career, and it really gave me the strength to really carve out my own lane for myself. The path that I'm going is really a path that [not] anyone has traveled before. I really feel like I'm trying to do something different, especially as a model, and being vocal, and doing all that I'm doing. So believing in God has really given me the strength to be like, 'You know what? It's okay. It takes a little bit longer. It's okay if your path is a little bit different.' And that gives me a lot of peace [and] peace of mind. You don't have to worry, you don't have to stress. What's for you, is for you."

"My biggest self-care tip is 'Give it to God.' My belief in God is what changed my career."

Hearing Ebonee's testimony, one can't help but to liken her to Black Panther star Letitia Wright, who plays "Shuri," --the technology goddess, sister and ultimate wingwoman to King T'Challa, the Black Panther himself. The breakout star recently opened up in an interview expressing her bout with depression, and how she shied away from the industry at the peak of her career to focus more on her faith, and the healing (and blessings) that followed thereafter.

"That's what happened to me!" Ebonee excitedly interjects while reacting to the similarities to herself and Letitia. "I had the behaviors [of depression]. As you get older, those are all the things you have to take the time to reevaluate and assess like, 'Why am I like this? Why do I behave like this? Where does this come from? Is this helping me get to where I need to go?'

Ebonee is no stranger to setbacks in her life, but those trials have blazed trails for unexpected triumphs. Her testimony of how she went from surfing couches to walking runways and starring in ads for big-name brands like GAP, Pantene, David's Bridal, and Calvin Klein is inspiring, and she confesses she isn't "struggling" now, although she still shrugs off the notion that she's "made it."

Gotham/GC Images

"I've never had like a 'big break," she humbly admits. "I've just had really great things that have happened to me over time, but I don't think there was ever really a moment that was just like, 'Oh my God, this is it. You're destined for stardom.' You know what I mean? I just feel like I've been real consistent in working my way up and putting in the hard work, and creating a foundation for myself not just based on modeling, but based on activism and philanthropy, and just using my voice and giving back."

At the end of a hard day's work, beyond the lights is Ebonee's life. When asked about her greatest love to date, it's clear that for Ebonee, it's self-love. As the model grows and redefines her life, she is also redefining love.

"Relationships are mirrors. Friendships as well. A lot of the time we attract people who hurt because we're hurting. But then when we're ready to leave that situation, we point that finger and blame that person like, 'You ruined my life!' But a lot of the time, if we took the time to be introspective, we'd realize that there was something in us that needed to learn a lesson, or something in us that was also in that other person that we need to work on. So, taking the time to assess your relationships [is important] like, 'What is being shown to me right now through this relationship with this person?'

"Relationships are mirrors. We attract people who hurt because we're hurting."

"My definition of love has changed so much over the last year as I've learned to love myself differently, because I've also learned to give love differently," she continues. "I've also learned how I want to be loved and how I deserve to be loved and what type of love I'm worthy of. And since going through this transformation, I haven't dated anyone and I haven't been in a relationship. I don't know what love would actually look like in a relationship [now]. If it would feel differently than it has in the past. It's hard to say if I've been in love because I think I have, but it's changed so much, so maybe I haven't. I won't know until I actually find someone."

Now that's what we call a r̶o̶l̶e̶ real model.

For more Ebonee, be sure to follow her on Instagram and Twitter.

Featured image by WireImage

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.


We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
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