Vivian Davis Figures has faced many challenges in her life, but she faces them head on. She would say that, "God uses bad for good." She has many such sayings. They spring out effortlessly at very appropriate times. It is one of many personal traits that make her unlike any politician you know. Looking at her life, in and out of politics, it is clear that she does not simply give lip service to good values and to moral action. Vivian Davis Figures represents the best of what we hope America can still produce in its leaders.
A Girl Born and Raised in the South
The beauty of being born and raised in the Deep South (Mobile, Alabama) is that you often learn to take lemons and make lemonade. You grow up understanding that Color' is always front-and-center, but more importantly, you grow up with a strong sense of family, morals and values that teach you not to judge. Color is an adjective. It describes a characteristic, not the character of a person. And it doesn't come close to defining Vivian. Her heritage is African-West Indian-Cajun-Cherokee Indian. Her mother always taught her to "treat others as you wish to be treated" while her godmother told her that "beauty is only skin deep... the real beauty is what is in your heart." As Vivian grew older, she developed and exemplified those teachings well.
Vivian was blessed with parents who gave her guidance through love and example. Her determination to succeed was strengthened by her father and mother's commitment to a hard work ethic. Mr. Joe Davis worked at the Southern Railway Company for 35 years, and never a missed a day. Mrs. Elsie Davis raised nine children while sometimes supplementing the family income by doing day work' for local white families.
She was an honor roll student throughout elementary, middle and high school. While at Williamson High, she was head majorette her junior and senior years and also worked part-time at the public library. After graduating she moved to Connecticut where her older sister and brother-in-law were settled. She took a full-time job at Yale University followed by a part-time job at a family owned grocery store to pay for her college education at the University of New Haven.
Vivian's job was across the street from federal assistance housing, where many residents benefited from government financial support but didn't have jobs. Meanwhile, Vivian couldn't get government support to help her pay tuition, because she did have a job. "Those women and their babies needed help," Vivian recalls. "But I believed then, and I still believe today that America should reward hard work and give a hand up, not just a hand out." In 1980, she became the first of nine children to receive her B.S. degree in Management Science in the School of Business Administration.
Life After College
After graduating college, Vivian moved back to her hometown of Mobile, Alabama and was hired by an anti-poverty agency, Mobile Community Action, Inc., to manage its Summer Lunch Program for children from low-income families. When the organization received a grant to begin a federally funded Foster Grandparents Program -- bringing together low income senior citizens and children with special needs -- Vivian became the Program Director. From this point on, in her public and in her personal life, she gave her heart and her time to making life better for others.
In 1982, Vivian Davis became Vivian Davis Figures when she married Michael A. Figures, a successful attorney and State Senator. After settling into her new role as wife, she went on to manage The New Times newspaper, (a weekly newspaper in which they held part ownership) followed by her own company, PerfectPrint, Inc.
Soon Vivian was not only a wife and business owner, but she became a mother of three boys who were all very active in sports. This new role led to working in the concession stand, membership vice president of the P.T.A., classroom activities and everything else that comes with being an involved parent. Wife. Mother. Business owner. Member of the P.T.A. Concession stand operator. But she wasn't done.
A City Councilwoman
In 1993, Vivian decided to run for the Mobile City Council. She felt very strongly that she could make a difference in city government. Although her husband did not agree initially, she followed her own mind and ran anyway. The nay-sayers said she could not win against a two-term incumbent. Soon she proved them wrong. She made the run-off and went on to win the election with Michael coming on board to insure the victory. This was the beginning of a lifelong commitment to "being a voice for the voiceless" and "representing all constituents, not just a chosen few."
During her first year, she led the successful effort in the Mayor appointing Mobile's first African American to head a city department. Even though the racial make-up of the city council was 4-3 white to black since the city's form of government changed in 1985, there had never been a minority to head a city department in the city's 300-year history. She refused to ratify the mayor's appointments, until he changed that, which he did, with support from the entire council.
Vivian was also a strong advocate for the fight against homelessness, and she helped establish the Homeless Coalition of Mobile to bring the community together to find a solution. When the city started contemplating getting a semi-professional baseball team and building a stadium, Vivian led the effort to name the stadium after Mobile native homerun king, Hank Aaron. During this time, she chaired the Feasibility Study Committee to establish the Big Brothers Big Sisters Program of Metropolitan Mobile for which she went on to serve as the first Chair of the Board for the program.
A State Senator
Three years later, everything changed. On September 11, 1996, Vivian had just returned home from Montgomery where she had completed her second week of law school classes, when Michael suffered a massive stroke. Two days later, September 13, 1996, at the age of 39, Vivian became a widow and a single mother with three boys, ages 14, 11, and 7. They became her life, and she never remarried.
Many people, including the Lieutenant Governor and many of Michael's colleagues encouraged Vivian to run for his two-year unexpired term. She did not believe she was capable of filling Michael's shoes, but when their seven year-old son said one evening, "Mommy you're the only one who can take Daddy's place," she knew she had to run. All three boys became, and remain, her most vigorous supporters. She was elected with 87% of the vote, and afterward, told folks she "brought her own pair of shoes to fill."
She is still that humble girl who worked in the library and at the grocery store, but like Michael she has become universally well-liked and respected by senators from both political parties. She is also known as a determined advocate for the causes she champions. It may take a long time, but eventually, she will pull everyone together. Her sister says she is a "quiet storm," and it is true that behind the contagious smile and soft voice is a person who knows where she is and where she wants to be.
The Lieutenant Governor asked her to chair the Education Committee, knowing that she had the passion and the personality to be successful. She authored the Child Protection Act to bring all public and private personnel who has unsupervised access to children in schools and daycare centers into compliance for background checks. In the spirit of compromise, she sought to share this accomplishment with a Republican senator by allowing him to be lead sponsor, something she is known to do often. "People need to see that their government works and that means putting aside politics whenever possible in order to make progress."
Senator Figures sponsored Vanessa's Law to allow women on Medicaid who suffered mastectomies to have reconstructive surgery, and worked for six years to pass the Clean Indoor Air Act to ban smoking in public buildings. The first part was getting smoking out of the Capital corridors, which she did almost single handedly. She also changed the dress code for women, who were not allowed to wear pant suits or slacks on the Senate floor. "It is proper business attire for a woman to wear pant suits, so no one could argue with my navy blue, pinstriped pant suit." Early on, she received a great deal of statewide attention for saying four words. "This Is A Joke." It was a moment of frustration captured on film and tape, as she had become fed up with four days of a Senate lockdown of filibustering that was not in any way making progress. She still doesn't understand why people can't simply get in a room and reasonably work through their differences.
A New Venture
It is important to remember that the Senator remained a mother first and foremost. She continued to work that concession stand. In 1997, she had a horrible car accident leaving a political event in Montgomery enroute to a little league game. But her boys have always come first, and Vivian knows the triumphs and trials felt by every mother. She let them cut no corners to succeed and pulled no strings when they failed. Her eldest, Akil, who is now 25 years old, is in prison on drug charges, and Vivian is there for him, as he now takes responsibility for making the rest of his life a success. Her middle son, Shomari, now 22, is in law school, and her youngest, Jelani, who is 19, just began his first year of college on a basketball scholarship.
State Senator Vivian Davis Figures is beginning a new venture as well. She decided to run for the U.S. Senate, because it is time for new leadership in Washington, D.C. It is time for Alabama to have a U.S. Senator who cares about all Alabamians.
Vivian Davis Figures is still a State Senator and Chair of the Education Committee. She is still a mother. She even still helps with the concession stand, even though her boys aren't there. She also directs the Michael Figures Leadership Experience, a summer program for rising ninth graders run at Stillman College, the University of Alabama and the University of South Alabama to teach leadership skills and build the confidence needed to become a leader. And now, Vivian Davis Figures is a candidate for the U.S. Senate.
She would not have taken on this new task without believing three things: America's government has lost the right priorities, that Jeff Sessions is a near perfect example of the problem, and that she would do a better job looking out for the people of Alabama.
Vivian Davis Figures is not like any politician you know. She doesn't give lip service to good values. She lives them. She doesn't fit into the labels of "liberal" or "conservative." She brings people together... sometimes, literally, as she loves to cook and feed family and friends when they are in Mobile. She believes in hard work. She is a woman of deep faith. She has a sharp intellect, the courage to do what's right regardless of the political ramifications, an instinct for bridging positions rather than building walls, an infectious optimism for the future, and a passion for fixing government and bettering the lives of our children. And when she meets a mother who is worried about her child's school, who is working to pay the bills and to put money aside for college and to save up for a time when she can no longer work, she can look her in the face and say, "I've been there."
Alabama has never elected a woman to the U.S. House or Senate. If the people who vote next November are ready to change that, State Senator Vivian Davis Figures has the experience - personal and professional - to represent the right priorities and to make Alabama proud.