Remembering pioneering Atlanta journalist Amanda Davis
She inspired us with her many years as a TV anchor and her off-camera struggles
I don’t remember the first time I saw Amanda Davis — the Amanda Davis — in the flesh, in the newsroom, but I bet I stopped in my tracks and stared.
I was an adopted “ATL-ien,” by way of New Orleans, who had grown up watching Davis on Fox 5 News in Atlanta. One of my BFFs during my days at Clark Atlanta University (CAU) had the biggest crush on her. He’d gush about her dazzling smile, beautiful eyes and that signature sultry voice that made lots of Atlantans tune in daily. Somehow the death and destruction that fill much of TV news is more palatable when shared by someone who makes you feel like she’s your best friend. That was Amanda.
This week, I join countless fellow fans and black journalists in mourning her unexpected death on Dec. 27 at the age of 62 after she suffered a stroke at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. She was about to board a flight en route to her stepfather’s funeral. Davis was a Clark College (now CAU) alum, an award-winning journalist and a devoted friend, mother and daughter to many. But it was her backstory that would ultimately make us admire her most.
In the early 2000s, thanks to Sidmel Estes Sumpter, the first woman president of the National Association of Black Journalists, I’d landed a dream job as an associate producer for Good Day Atlanta on Fox 5. By that time, Davis, who’d launched the popular program with Sumpter as executive producer, had moved on to anchoring the evening newscast. But her groundbreaking role at the station and on the morning show, which featured an eclectic mix of hard news with newsmaker and celebrity interviews, was still widely celebrated.
I’d always admired Davis from afar, but my fandom reached new heights when I was invited to a soiree at her grand home in suburban Atlanta. I was touched that she thought to include lesser-known young-uns like me, and I remember feeling excited and a bit intimidated about celebrating the recent promotion of Fox 5 anchor Lisa Rayam in the midst of such pioneering black broadcasters as Brenda Wood, Karyn Greer and Monica Kaufman. My nervousness subsided quickly when they all embraced me, literally and figuratively, during that spirited celebration of “Black Girl Magic.” That night amid greatness ignited in me a deep sense of pride and a profound sense of purpose that would later catapult my own career. I hoped to make the women who’d inspired me proud.
Although I’d always appreciated Davis, as I struggle now with balancing a journalism career and motherhood, I find myself thinking back to the stories I’d heard from Sumpter and fellow Good Day alum Patrick Riley and Michael Watts about how Davis, as a single mother, would bring her beloved daughter to work with her in the wee hours of the morning. Still in her PJs, little Melora would sleep in a vacant office while her mom dazzled Atlantans on air. Then Davis, or a trusted member of the Good Day team, would take Melora to school. The struggle was real, but with dogged determination, Davis displayed the resilience of women, especially black women, with grace and strength.
We would learn in recent years that her ambition came with an even higher price than we knew. A few years ago, a DUI arrest ultimately ended Davis’ 26-year reign at Fox 5. But she didn’t give up and melt into the shame of a very public downfall. She brushed herself off and did what I believe was probably the hardest thing she’s ever had to do — be transparent.
She began speaking publicly about her long-standing struggles with alcoholism and the insecurities she endured as a result of a tumultuous romantic relationship that ended with a painful failed engagement. Davis embodied the phrase “grace under pressure” as she shared her testimony. I, like countless other fans and colleagues, cheered from the sidelines.
Davis landed back in the anchor chair a year ago, this time at Atlanta’s CBS affiliate. I kept up with her success through social media and checked on her through mutual friends. Her own posts in the minutes before her death, interestingly, have helped me to make peace with her untimely departure.
She gleefully posted photos of her Lyft driver, who had picked her up decked out in a festive holiday outfit with a vehicle decorated in similar fashion. Despite the emotional reason for her trip, she was smiling and in great spirits as she recorded herself walking toward the airport, joking about dreading long security lines and having to check her bags. She looked happy and beautiful, in a vibrant red turtleneck, eyeglasses framing her famous face.
It’s still hard to accept, but seeing her so happy and upbeat in what would be the last moments of her life has given me a sense of calm. Davis made it through the lowest of lows and inspired us all in the process. I hope she can rest in peace knowing that her biggest assignment — the lessons she lived to teach us all — was finally complete.