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Florida Lottery Secretary John Davis joins SalterMitchell PR President Heidi Otway to discuss his journey from top-ranked high school recruit and star safety for the Florida State Seminoles to his current position leading the Florida Lottery.
Tune in to their conversation to hear Secretary Davis share stories of leadership from both on and off the field.
Chris Cate: Welcome to the Fluent in Floridian podcast featuring the Sunshine State's brightest leaders, talking about the issues most important to the people of Florida and its millions of weekly visitors. In this episode, created by SalterMitchell PR, our executive producer Heidi Otway, the president of SalterMitchell PR talks to Florida Lottery Secretary John Davis.
Heidi Otway: Secretary Davis, thank you for joining this Fluent in Floridian podcast. We're so excited to have you on the program today.
John Davis: Well, thank you for having me. It's always exciting to be able to meet new people and to be able to talk about things that are happening in this world, and looking forward to it.
Heidi Otway: Great. Well, you're a native Floridian, born and raised in Pahokee, Florida. Tell us about your upbringing. I like to start at the very beginning.
John Davis: Well, as you mentioned, born and raised in Pahokee, Florida. And for some who may not have ever heard of Pahokee, Florida, most people refer to it as God's country. And it's located in the southeastern part of Lake Okeechobee down in Palm Beach County. So, we're in the western part of Palm Beach County. I know oftentimes when you think about Palm Beach County, most folks thinks about the East Coast and the beautiful Atlantic Ocean and the palm trees. Where if you travel a little further west, about 40 minutes west, and it's a little rural community called Pahokee.
Born and raised there, the oldest of five. And I would not exchange that experience for anything in the world. I like to tell folks, "Growing up there, the way I did, prepared me for where I am today. And there's nothing in life that I don't believe that I could possibly overcome because of my upbringing."
Heidi Otway: Talk about your love of sports and how sports played a role in your early life.
John Davis: Well, early on, being there from Pahokee or small towns, Pahokee, Belle Glade, Clewiston, South Bay, lot of those small town in and around that Muck area, which they call Muck City. And just growing up there, I mean, those before us, we watched individuals who played sports. Football, it's almost like the State of Texas is what high school football was like there in that Muck area. And just watching my uncles, watching cousins and the opportunity came about, in which I was next in line to be able to play.
And for many of us, it's a way out of Pahokee. I mean, it's a small rural place, about 6,000 individuals, high rate of unemployment and things of that nature. But it's nothing like the people there. The people there are loving individuals. And just growing up there, education is something that was always preached.
I had grandparents, mothers, both of them, didn't have a high school ... completed high school, grandfather was ... my mom's father was from Montserrat and came there as a migrant worker. No education, couldn't read or write, and just growing up there, all they ever wanted, and the people in that community, is to be able to make a life and to make a way for those who were next in line and just getting a good education and utilizing football as something that we all participated in as sports, as a way, as a hook to be able to allow me to get out of Pahokee.
And I was fortunate, coming out of Pahokee, I was rated as the number one safety in the nation and playing football. And I was fortunate. I actually committed to Notre Dame out of high school to coach Lou Holtz. And of course, if you haven't heard the stories, Bobby Bowden made a trip to my house, had a chance to visit with my mom, and all I could say is it's history. It was curtains from there.
When it was time for me to sign, my mom asked where I was attending school. I told her Notre Dame, she began to cry tears of joy. And I asked her why, and she told me, "Hey, I won't be able to see you play in person. But the fact of the matter is ... " and I later asked her, I say, so what do you want me to go? And she told me Florida State, and I asked her why. And she told me because of Bobby Bowden. My mom was a very religious individual, and as we all know about Coach Bowden, the situation was the same. And that's how I ended up at Florida State University. And it's the best decision I could have ever made in my entire life. And thank God for my mom and me listening to my mom.
Heidi Otway: Bobby Bowden is iconic, based here in Tallahassee and across Florida and the nation. Tell me about the relationship that you had with Coach Bowden and what he instilled in you that helped you get to where you are today.
John Davis: Bobby Bowden, everything you've probably heard about Coach Bowden is the absolute truth. He was an individual who truly told ... He would tell parents, "Hey, listen, I'm going to be like a father to him, and I'm going to make sure that he's taken care of." And that was absolutely the case. Coach Bowden was like a father away from ... a parent away from home. The thing that was most impressive about Coach Bowden is, and as I got older and today ... and you began to realize that this is an individual who utilized his platform for good. And that was something that I learned from him. He always talked about the three Fs. It was faith, family, and football in those three orders. And faith was something that he did not force it on anyone. But because of the way he carried himself, the way he lived his life, you knew that there was a halo around this man and it was something that you admired and you wanted to be like, and you wanted to be able to emulate. He was someone who was all about winning on the football field, but most of all, wanted to make sure that not just his players, but his coaches and families, were also successful individuals in whatever endeavor they chose to be a part of. That was on and off the football field.
Heidi Otway: So, tell me about one of your experiences on the field that was momentous when you played at Florida State University?
John Davis: I would have to say, of course, all of us would like to say there were quite a few, but I would have to say the most exciting play for me was, of course, my freshman year. We were playing Nebraska in the Fiesta Bowl and actually having a punt block that really helped us to be able to have a romp there, of Nebraska. But I would also say there were two other plays. We played against Penn State and the Blockbuster Bowl, and they were driving and I was fortunate enough to get in interception in the end zone, that pretty much solidified that game.
Heidi Otway: So a number of notable Seminoles are now on the national spotlight, and I'm a graduate of Florida A&M University, and we recently played Jackson State under Coach Deion Sanders, Coach Prime. What was your relationship with Coach Prime as you were coming into Florida State?
John Davis: Well, my freshman year, I got there in '89, so he was finished. But here's one of the things that ... He was still around here in Tallahassee, and I got a chance to meet Coach Prime at the dorm once, and it was just a small occasion. "Hey Deion, hey, how are you?" But I have two stories.
During my high school year, my high school senior year, had been recruited by Florida State, I was at home about to leave with my best friend and a couple other guys who were on the team, and I think were about to head somewhere and go work out on the lake and the phone rang. And back then, everybody had house phones and it wasn't cell phone. So, I turned around, we're heading out, and I turn around, "Hey, let me answer the phone." , I go back to answer the phone, I pick up the phone and it's Deion.
And he called and he was like, "Is John home?" I said, "Yeah, this is he." He's like, "This is Deion Sanders." And I'm like, "Hold on." So I run outside and I get all my friends and I'm yelling and screaming, "Hey, hey, hey, Deion Sanders is on the phone. Deion Sanders is on the phone." And I go back inside and of course, they're all listening to me speak with Deion. But it's a part of that process of being recruited, to have Deion Sanders call your house. It's something that you never, ever forget.
And fast forward to my junior year, I believe the first year in the ACC, and Coach Prime is in Atlanta with the Falcons and we're at the hotel, we're getting ready to play Georgia Tech. And what ended up happening is Coach Andrews did not tell us, we're in a meeting and all of a sudden here, here comes Deion. So, he had Deion Sanders to come over to the hotel, and I remember Deion spent at least two to three hours there with us. And it was just us, Coach Andrews was gone and he was just talking to the players. And it was something that I would never ever forget.
Here I am, years later, over 30 years, and I can still tell the story, but the thing that was most interesting is what we see today from Deion Sanders. He said, "What you all have here is Deion Sanders," and we're having conversations about football and about life. He said, "But what you see on television, that's prime time." This is a guy-
Heidi Otway: I love that.
John Davis: ... absolutely. This is a guy who was branding and marketing himself before it was something that was popular. And we see that happening right now today with him being able to utilize his resources, his ability to be able to bring attention to something that is as important as Jackson State University and the HBCU community. And I'm excited and I get a chance ... I've really never watched HBCU football on the weekend the way I do now. In the past, of course, you check out FMU and some of the nice classics, but every single week I'm trying to see who Jackson State is playing, as I do with Florida State.
Heidi Otway: That's great, that's great. So let's talk about your transition from being a college football player and entering into your career. What did you study at Florida State and how did you transition into the start of your career?
John Davis: I was a political science major. I mean, it is something that I've always had just a love of politics, of just really understanding what makes this country tick. I remember back in high school, I mean just, I loved history and it was something that was always intriguing for me. And that transition from when I left Florida State, being the number one safety in the nation, starting a couple years at Florida State, playing at a high level, if anybody would tell you that you would not be in the NFL, it's almost those were fighting words and it's like, "Put your dukes up, let's go at it." But it didn't happen.
And being a Christian man that I am, what I do understand is things happened for a reason. And I remember being released when I was up in Canada before the season started. I remember walking in, getting that knock at the door, and basically being released and looked in the mirror that morning before I went down to meet with the coach to hear the bad news. I cried and then by looking in that mirror, and I remember asking God and speaking to God, and I said, "God, you know my heart, you know my desires, I want to be able to play football. It's something I've done all my life and it's a jumpstart on life to be able to take care of my family." And I said, "Evidently, that's not what you want." So, I asked Him to guide me, to lead me, and to allow His will to be, and I'll continue to do my part.
And that's what I've been able to do in every phase of my life and everything that I've been involved with, I've been able to have a very successful career in the private sector, selling medical devices, made a ton of money, did a lot of different things, really making a difference. But I've always wanted to get back into politics and was able to do that. If I fast forward from working on campaigns and working in government, this is my third sting in state government. And I didn't think I would be back in Tallahassee.
I was living in Orlando, running the Chambers of Commerce, enjoying the business community and just that alignment of education, and just the volunteerism that was taking place. But Governor DeSantis is someone that I was watching and just absolutely just loved the fact that he is someone who truly believes in doing the right thing. And in many respects, a lot of the things that he was doing, I mean, I just see ... I saw leadership qualities and without a doubt there was an opportunity for me to be a part, of this administration and actually been here at the Lottery. Again, God works in mysterious ways and to have this chance to be involved at the Lottery, something whose whole purpose is all about education and creating opportunities, and to be able to align that with giving back and helping those here in this state to prepare them for life, is ... I like to share with my team, I have the best job in the state of Florida at this time.
Heidi Otway: So I want to take a step back. I want to talk to you more about your role with the Lottery, but I want to take a step back to when you were in Orlando with the Chambers of Commerce and seeing the growth of Central Florida. Tell me about your role in helping make Orlando a destination for business growth and development.
John Davis: I moved to Orlando in 1997, sold medical devices for almost nine years, and I had a plan from day one. It wasn't something I wanted to do the rest of my life, I've always wanted to get back into government and be involved in the community. I was fortunate to go through a selection process, and was chosen to be the president of the African American Chamber of Commerce, I think in 2014 or '13, or somewhere up in there, I think '14. And that really set the stage for what I wanted to do from a community standpoint. That allowed me to be grounded there in Orlando, taking over a chamber that was been in existence since 1945.
And one of the things that they talked about is, "Hey, listen, we've got to get this right. If we don't get this right, we could possibly have to close our doors."And one of the things I think God has blessed me with, the ability to be able to come in to analyze the situation doesn't take me long. I say what we want to do here is to create what I call a turnkey organization. We've got to make sure that we have an infrastructure and a foundation in place that is bigger than any leader, any president, that's bigger than any board member. And this is a community organization and we're going to build an infrastructure that is all about the community. And I think with the leadership of my board and myself and others, and the support that I received from the community, major businesses as well as small businesses, we were able to create a turnkey organization.
And in 2018, like I say, I guess I was hired away and ended up running the big chamber as we like to call it there in Central Florida, the Orlando Regional Chamber. But prior to that, one of the things that was most important to me, is to create that infrastructure and put that infrastructure in place at the African American Chamber. Therefore, so whoever would be the next president to come in, they'd just take it to the next level. And that's what they've been able to do, is to be able to take that chamber to the next level.
I've stayed intimately involved with every organization there in central Florida and moving on to the Orlando Regional Chamber, had a chance to be there with what is now the Orlando Economic Partnership, after merger of that took place and been a part of that team and helping to align the chamber with the partnership, really was something that was very unique as well. And there was always pushback, when change has been made, but we wanted to make sure that people recognize that, "Hey, we're not your grandfather or your grandmother Chamber of Commerce." We've got to look forward and to make sure we understand trends and what the future is going to look like. And we're able to do that.
And I was fortunate also couple of years later, is when the governor appointed me in 2020, but one of the things that I've maintained, and in speaking with the governor, I wanted to make sure that no matter what I was doing here in Tallahassee, that the people in Central Florida know that that's where I live and that's what I call home. And I've been able to maintain my volunteerism by being on the Valencia College Board of Trustees, in which Governor DeSantis has appointed me prior to this role. Also, on the United Way board there, I serve on the deans, the Florida A&M deans, the Deans Advisory Council, as well as other organizations in which I volunteer.
So, I absolutely love Central Florida. It is perhaps maybe one of the most welcoming and diverse communities in the State of Florida. And anytime, the business community is ... there's that integration and alignment of our educational institutions, the business community and all volunteer nonprofit, for-profit organizations that are committed to excellence and committed to growth. It is it something that I think is needed and we're able to do there in central Florida. I'm always still actively involved and trying to do whatever I can, to help keep that place moving forward.
Heidi Otway: Yeah, Orlando is one of my favorite places to visit and my oldest daughter just moved there this past weekend. And super thrilled that I have more reasons to go to the city beautiful. So tell me, what was one of the most notable things that you felt in your role with both chambers, that really moved Orlando from being considered a tourist town, to really a place where people want to come live, work, and play?
John Davis: I think one of the things that's most important is to make sure that we're all united, that we're all working together. And to recognize the importance again, as I mentioned, and it's one of the things I know I get a chance to speak with Governor DeSantis about, and that's dealing with the alignment of education and workforce in the business community. There in Central Florida, we make sure there at the Orlando Regional Chamber of Commerce, or the Orlando Economic Partnership in all chambers, there are like 52 ... I think 52 to 54 chambers of commerce within this seven county region. And we all communicated with each other. We would have meetings to make sure that we understood what the regional goals are, what the needs are for the region, not just individual chambers. And that we would work collectively together, to be able to make sure that these needs in this community, within this region are heard.
And so, I think the fact is important for people to see and what people oftentimes see they're willing to emulate and they're willing to recognize that, hey, this is a place that I want to be. You have good leadership there in Central Florida, not just from the government community, but again, there's a real partnership between the public and the private sector, for-profits and nonprofits, that are all working cohesively together to be able to make that place the best place here, not just in the state, but in the nation.
I believe the thing that is important is, the folks in Central Florida are never comfortable where they are. You begin to think about Central Florida, it's been known and we're grateful for Disneys and the Universals and other ... just the hospitality community, as well as the tourism community. But it's about 80%, that's about 20% of what Central Florida has to offer.
There's so much more, and I think everyone collectively within the region, have all worked together to make sure that the entire world know that there's a lot more to central Florida than just our tourism community. And they are doing everything to be cutting edge and to be forward thinking. And when you're able to do that, when the leadership is committed to being forward thinking and to being innovative, it leads to great things. And that's what they've been able to do there in Central Florida as a whole, collectively, from bottom to top and top to bottom.
Heidi Otway: Oh, that's so great. I'm so glad to hear about that collaboration. I think it's so critical. So, tell me about the moment you got the phone call that you were going to be the next secretary of the Florida Lottery.
John Davis: Well, I tell you, it was perhaps maybe one of the most exciting times ever in my life because just understanding the role of the Lottery, first and foremost, to be able to work at this agency is ... and people oftentimes say, "Hey, listen, I have a great job. This is best job." I'm an old man, as I like to say sometime, when you begin to look at my diverse background. But this is truly the best, one of the best agencies, perhaps maybe the best state agency in the entire state to work at. I mean, we have individuals who've worked at various agencies, and they would all tell you it's nothing like working at the Florida Lottery.
When I received that call, that the governor wanted to meet with me, it's a process. It's a long process. And as you know, Governor DeSantis is very strategic in his approach. And just having a chance to meet with him to talk about what I believe that I would bring to the table, been a part of this administration, been a part of this team, and to be able to take this agency to a different him, is something that I was able to convey with him. I remember talking to the governor about three things, three primary things that I believe that I brought to the table.
Number one, my government experience. I've had a chance to work in government. I understand just the mindset and the mentality of individuals that are civil servants and have been in here for a while. I also talk about my government experience, talk about my private sector experience as it relates to just the business acumen that I had. I believe also, the political experience. Government agency, I mean, I'm a registered lobbyist on behalf of working for this agency, but the fact of the matter is, you've got to be able to balance those three things.
How are you able to balance downtown, as I like to call it, working with the legislature, working with the governor's office, and making sure that we're doing everything we need to take care of the people that are working for the Florida Lottery? And being able to do those things and understanding my business acumen because most folks may not know, but the Lottery is that one agency that is a business enterprise.
We are an at-will agency and we were created to function and to operate as a business. So, we are 100% ... We provide revenue for the state of Florida, all the benefits and everything that we have, we do not receive any state government funding, so we are providing revenue. And so, it's always a lot easier to be able to go downtown to speak with our policymakers because we're talking about how we can continue to provide even more revenue for this state.
So, speaking with the governor about those three things, and really understanding that he wanted someone who had a business background, and who could really come in and look at this agency, there were three things that were important to him. And number one, he wanted to make sure that we continued to drive revenue, which we've been able to do.
Number two, he wanted to make sure that our procurement process was open and fair. And the third thing is he wanted to make sure that we were doing it efficiently. I think with those three things being a part of everything that we do, everything else that we do, falls within those three slots. And working with the team here, we've been able to put together what we call our path forward, a vision forward for the Lottery that will catapult us into the next decade.
So, there are things that we're doing to here at the Lottery that I've done in the private sector, to make sure there is an infrastructure and there are things that will help this Lottery continue to move forward in a way that is cutting edge. And that's one of the things that we're working on right now.
But getting that call, it was extremely exciting. I did not think I would ever be back in Tallahassee, but the opportunity to work with this administration and to be able to head up an agency like the Florida Lottery, is just a no-brainer.
Chris Cate: The Fluent in Floridian podcast is brought to you by SalterMitchell PR, a communications consultancy focused on helping good causes win. We provide strategic insight and guidance to organizations seeking to make an impact in the nation's third most populous state. Learn more at snprflorida.com. Now back to Heidi's interview with Florida Lottery Secretary, John Davis.
Heidi Otway: Tell me about the economic impact of the Lottery on Florida.
John Davis: 99% of the revenues that we bring in goes back into this state, into this economy. Our operating budget overhead is 1% of what we bring in. I think if you could get a business where you're doing 10%, everybody is singing hallelujah. I mean, you're talking 15% to 20% on the average of overhead in most instances. When you begin to think about the bulk of the monies that we bring in, of course we have to pay prizes. I mean, that's what we do. We have to pay prizes. I mean, right now, the Powerball is over a billion dollars.
Heidi Otway: Right, I was going to ask you about that.
John Davis: So someone has got to pay that prize when someone wins, hopefully that person is in Florida. And then of course, we have education. Our why, on why we exist, is all about being able to create opportunities for education here in this state for our students. And this is something that the team and I, we're all working on doing a much better job at. Most people think about the lottery, they think about the games and winning money, and that's all a part of it.
But ultimately, it's all about being able to provide additional funding for education. So, education we're giving ... every month, we transfer funds to what we call the Educational Enhancement Trust Fund. And right now, we're averaging about $6.2 million a day that we're transferring over to education because of the players here in the state are willing to play our fun and entertaining and exciting games.
And then of course, we have our vendors that we work with, as well as our retailers, there is some ... These partners that we have, we have over 13,000 retailers across the State that partner with the Florida Lottery, to be able to sell these exciting games that we have. And this is something that creates opportunities for them. It's been an economic engine for so many stores here in the state. When you began to think about many of the mom and pops, the small businesses, if someone said, "Hey, listen, I'm going to buy a lottery ticket," oftentimes that person is going to grab a bag of chips, or get some gas and do many other things as well. So, the work that we do in being able to provide additional funding and revenues for education, it's also impacting our community throughout this state, and it has a viable impact on our economy.
Heidi Otway: This is so exciting to hear. So I've been following you on LinkedIn and I've seen the engagements that you're having with our public institutions of education, so our community colleges and universities. You were recently here at Florida A&M University for homecoming and other activities. Tell me about the relationship that you have with our institutions of higher learning when it comes to the Florida Lottery.
John Davis: I'm glad you asked that question. I think it's very important. As I mentioned earlier, most individuals when they think about the Lottery, we just think about the money, winning the prizes, and the games that's being played. And oftentimes, I think there are things that we may get a bad rap for, but the thing that we haven't done a good job and it's our fault and we will continue to make sure that people see what we do every day. A lot of that has to do with the partnerships and the engagements that we have with various organizations throughout this state.
I know our team, they're our communications team. I know we have Carrie and her team, are responsible for these partnerships. And one of the things I talked about is ... and that's a part of this path forward that I talked about, is one of the things we want to do, we want to strengthen the partnerships that we have throughout the state, with our sister agencies as well as other organizations.
Higher education, post-secondary education, is something that's near and dear. And that's very important not just to this governor, to myself, to the entire Florida Lottery. And to be able to do those things, we have ... Since I've been here, I've made it perfectly clear to the team that our partnerships are not just going to be ... aren't going to be partnerships just to be partnerships. We're not going to be writing checks just because it's something that we've done with this organization for the last decade. But it has to make sense and it has to align with the mission of the Florida Lottery. And that's what we've been able to do.
We are currently, with the resources that we have and the revenues that we generate, it actually funds K through 12 education. So, we're talking kindergarten through 12th grade, as well as all of our colleges and universities here, our state colleges and universities and the Bright Future Scholarship Program.
So, the partnerships, it's no reason and it's only ... it just makes sense for myself, as well as other members of this team, to work directly with these colleges as well as these universities. I've made it clear in working with the various college presidents, the Florida College System and others, that we're not just interested in sending the Florida Lottery logo during a commercial. We want to understand what specific programs and initiatives that you all have within the community or within your organization, and how that aligns with the Florida Lottery's mission. And that's what we're focused on. I believe, and I conveyed this to the governor and the team downtown as well as my team, I'm not here just to set in the corner office, if I'm going to be here ... If you see me in Tallahassee all the time, that means I'm not doing my job. It's important for me to get out throughout this state and to travel this state and to engage with our partners, and to be able to spread as I would like to say, the gospel of the Florida Lottery and why we exist to do what we do.
So, those partnerships are important, and I'm going to let it be known what we do here. I know Carrie and her team, we meet often and we talk about some of the ... what the vision may be long term and short term. How important it is for people to see the work that we're actually doing. Because if we don't tell our story ... and we've got to make sure that we tell our story and not depend on other folks that tell our story. And whatever that story is that folks are going to tell, it's because they've seen what we're doing. So, we're going to continue to do that.
Heidi Otway: So when you're not preaching the gospel of the Florida Lottery, what do you do in your spare time in the beautiful state of Florida?
John Davis: Well, that's time for me to be able to spend with my wife. My wife and I, we don't have any kids. My wife travels, she's ... her job and I'm here and we try when I'm able to get back to Orlando or she's able to get here, and then that's an opportunity for us to spend time. So, family and friends is something that's very important to me. And I'm always, even on the weekends, I'm always doing something.
When I'm back in Orlando, I always take that opportunity to be able to catch up with friends that are there and even throughout this state. So, that's pretty much what I'm doing, is spending time with friends and family. And side note, the other thing that is that I love doing, and that is getting out in my yard and planting flowers, which I did this weekend. Got a few petunias that I had to plant.
Heidi Otway: Nice.
John Davis: It's that time of the year, to be able to have some flowers mixed in with the shrubs that are there. So, that allows me to be able to get away and to get prepared to watch Florida State play on Saturdays.
Heidi Otway: Florida State. Okay, go Noles.
John Davis: Yes.
Heidi Otway: So, I wanted to ask you about, do you make time to go back to Pahokee? I mean, I'm sure you're one of the favorite sons, especially in your role as the leader of Florida's lottery.
John Davis: Yes, absolutely. A matter of fact, I'll be back in Pahokee here, in a couple of weeks. Looking forward to going just to see my family. My mom transitioned in 2009. My dad lives in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and just spoke to him last night. They'll be out here for Thanksgiving. But going back there gives me a chance to be able to see my family and not just my family, but friends. So, it's nothing like home.
And even in 2020, during perhaps maybe one of the most devastating times in the entire world of having to deal with COVID, I had a chance to have a conversation with Anquan Boldin, who is one of the best to ever come out of Pahokee. Of course, attended Florida State University where he played football. And I always like to say, I helped recruit him. Anybody that that's out of Pahokee in the Muck area, I want them all to attend Florida State.
But the fact is, Anquan called me one Thursday and say, "Hey, JD." He said, "We're dealing with this COVID ordeal, and I know the governor is trying to create opportunities for these vaccines." And I think he had, the governor had ... Publix had agreed to provide vaccinations at the time. And the nearest Publix out in Pahokee is probably about 27 miles away. And being in that rural community, he called, and Anquan ... and we had that conversation. And on Friday, I had a conference call with the governor's office. And from there, by Sunday, the governor was aware of everything that was going on and made it perfectly clear to the team that he wanted to be in Pahokee to do a press conference. He wanted to open up a vaccination site there.
Wednesday was the quickest that they could get everything there. And being back there in Pahokee, that perhaps maybe had to be one of the most exciting times, and very emotional for me to be able to travel down with the governor, to open up that site there in Pahokee and to have friends and families and coaches, the mayor, everyone there that I grew up with, to have our governor there in Pahokee, opening up a vaccination site that would be able to provide 500 vaccinations over the weekend for that entire community and area there.
And the governor, it's something which the governor has said, that ... of understanding it was an opportunity to be able to fill a gap, as it relates to rural communities and communities that perhaps maybe didn't have access at the time. But in mentioning Pahokee, always get a chance to, when I get a chance to get back there, I just love being there. But that's definitely something, even in this role, it was exciting when the governor wanted me to say a few words and just to see my high school coaches and some teachers and families there, and just to think I would've loved for a mom to be there.
Heidi Otway: What a remarkable story. Actually, I got a little emotional listening to you because to be able to come from a community where you said a lot of people don't rise to the level that you have, and then to be able to give back, I'm sure it was a very rewarding experience for you.
John Davis: Absolutely. I mean, when you think about a community such as Pahokee, I mean, we didn't have everything growing up and we didn't realize that until we left and had a chance to see the rest of the world. Same for me, coming here to Florida State and to be able to go home with some of my friends. I remember heading to Jacksonville with LeRoy Butler, and it was like, "Whoa." I mean, this is a different world, but the fact of the matter is the love and the people is what make that area what it is today. And there's nothing like the love that that community has for individuals that are there, no matter if you become the president of the United States, or NBA basketball player, or just someone who just has a regular job.
The love that they have there is all equally the same. And of course, to be in the role that I'm in, I know my friends and families in that community is extremely proud of what I've been able to accomplish. And to be able to work with that community, with this administration, is something that's been a lot of fun as well.
Heidi Otway: Wonderful. Well, I could continue to talk with you more and more about your remarkable career, but we are on limited time. So, we always like to wrap up our conversations with four questions that I'd like to ask you.
John Davis: Uh-oh.
Heidi Otway: And I can't wait to get to the last one, but we're going to start with the first three. So, the first question is, who is a Florida leader who you admire? It could be someone from any different industry or field, from the past, or someone who is still active in their work.
John Davis: The Florida leader. Well, I have to say there are two. One being Mary McLeod Bethune, and the other, of course, being the legendary coach that I had a chance to play for, Bobby Bowden. Both of these individuals were extremely inspirational. They both were generational leaders, who truly just changed ... not just this state in the industry in which they participated. And even in an instance, you think about Dr. Bethune, I mean, you were talking about changing this world. I mean this country, the role that she played in being an advisor to presidents. And Coach Bowden is someone who is just generational as well. And those two individuals are two individuals in this state that I think folks would talk about for years and decades to come.
Heidi Otway: Absolutely. What is a person, place, or thing in Florida that deserves more attention than it's currently getting?
John Davis: Well, I promise you, I'm not saying this just because this is where I am. But the Bright Future Scholarship Program, I think it is something ... When I think about, I received a full ride scholarship to play football at Florida State University. Many others that I know received scholarships, athletic scholarships, to play football, basketball, soccer, wherever it may be, whatever it may be. But oftentimes, those are things that we've done all our lives.
We grew up as kids, playing sports. Parents today want to make sure that their kids have the best equipment, that they have everything they need to excel at that sport. And it starts early, in which I knew that I had to take the SAT and the ACT. I knew those things I had to do if I was going to receive that scholarship.
With the Bright Future Scholarship Program, it is something that could create the exact same opportunities for every child in this state. And I think we have dropped the ball and we have not done a good enough job as leaders, as well as parents and organizations throughout this state. And it's something that Governor DeSantis has ... We have an initiative that we look to be rolling out in 2023, focused around keeping Florida's future bright, in which he wants to create more awareness. And we're already going to begin ... We already began to do those things. He wants to create more awareness around the Bright Future Scholarship Program. And it's something I know I've been working ... I'll be working with Commissioner Diaz as well as other partners, to make sure that we do our part. And it is something that most likely, we're looking at introducing in middle school, where we're talking about that program and all the requirements around becoming a Bright Future Scholarship recipient.
Heidi Otway: That's great. That's great. So, you get to travel around the state a lot. So what is your favorite Florida location to visit?
John Davis: I would have to say South Florida. And when I say South Florida, I talk about the Tri Counties. I like to call them the Tri Counties. We're talking about Miami-Dade, Palm Beach and Broward County. My wife and I, we usually like to stay nowadays down around Las Olas area.
Heidi Otway: That's beautiful.
John Davis: And then we just get in the car and we travel south, to South Beach and people watch and enjoy the food. And then of course, have to travel up Palm Beach County, which is where I'm from, to be able to see friends and family.
Heidi Otway: That's great. And now, here's the question I really wanted to ask you. Who is your favorite Florida sports team?
John Davis: My favorite Florida sports team. Here I am again, you asking me for one and I'm giving you two. It would have to be the Pahokee Blue Devils, which is my high school team, I absolutely love ... I bleed that Big Blue there in Pahokee, and of course the Florida State Seminoles. I mean, my wife, doesn't matter what we're doing on Saturdays when I'm home, if we have a early ... Say, listen, she's the boss. Of course, we all know that, but I don't ask for much. All I want to do is to be able to watch Florida State football on Saturdays.
So, now she at least give me that courtesy of if there's an early game, whatever we're going to do, we have to do it later. If we're playing at 7:30, we got to get it done early or we can't do it. So, it's all about Florida State football whenever we're playing. And I absolutely love them and love watching my Pahokee Blue Devils.
Heidi Otway: That's wonderful. Well, Secretary Davis, thank you so much for being a guest on our Fluent in Floridian podcast. You have been a joy to speak to, and I thank you for this opportunity.
John Davis: Thank you for having me.
Chris Cate: Thanks for listening to the Fluent in Floridian Podcast. This show is executive produced by April Salter, with additional support provided by Heidi Otway and the team at SalterMitchell PR. If you need help telling your Florida story, SalterMitchell PR has you covered, by offering issues management, crisis communications, social media, advocacy, and media relations assistance. You can learn more about SalterMitchell PR at snprflorida.com. You can also learn more about the Fluent in Floridian podcast and listen to every episode of the show, at fluentinfloridian.com, or by searching for the show, using their favorite podcast app. Have a great day.
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