Ron Davis: An Unstoppable D&I Leader Guided By Faith and a Passion for Helping Others

The Most Inspiring DEI Leaders to Follow in, 2023

Ron Davis, Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer at Parx Casino defines success as standing on the shoulders of the many people who helped him navigate his life. He believes that success is always about finding the next step, sometimes in a dark place, and that his steps have been guided by his faith, and a culture and attitude of help.

“I love to help other people be effective in building successful groups or teams, whether inside or outside an organization. I’ve been blessed to have the opportunity to be a leader and have an NFL background. I was an All-American football player, and in football, you also learn to be a leader. I’m blessed to have been captain of my high school football team and am in three Sports Halls of Fame,” he shares. “Someone recognized some trait or quality I had in me and put me in that position. I think God has blessed me to order my steps to this point and the things I’ve done, or experiences of helping people build effective groups or teams as a member of that team. My perspective is one of caring and that hopefully comes through in the things I do daily, the experiences I’ve had in business in life, and the things I’ll do in the future.”

Ron praises God for helping him get clear on the vision of helping people in critical situations, being empathetic, and achieving all the things that are key to opening doors for people. He notes that everybody has a door that might not be open for them right away and works on opening those doors, building on the kindness and empathy he learned through his family and parents, who taught him, in a very sensitive way, to care about others. “I’ve taken that quality and over the years, built a sacred family, and taken that energy to my everyday experiences,” he remarks.

Passionate About Bringing People Together For Good

Ron sees his evolution, from his days at Deptford High School to Virginia State University and his time in the NFL and post-NFL experiences, as a blessing. He hopes to be seen as a person who helps people in a positive way to do great things. As a practitioner of D&I for several years, 18 of them at Parx, he’s always been passionate about bringing people together for good and putting together a team of people who care. This means individuals who value each other regardless of skin intellect talent, or years, including people who haven’t been at the table for lack of opportunity.

Ron notes that Parx is certainly a caring organization, having the best of the best at everything. “I am blessed to be here. Years ago, I worked in banking and had a gun to my head during a robbery. Although the gun was pointed at my head, it did not go off. From that moment on I feel truly blessed to be here; and at that moment, I dedicated my life to helping others,” he says. “By God’s grace, I was the first person hired at Parx Casino and was able to help come up with a strategy for the best customer experience, the best for employees, and for the community.”

Ron set out to connect teams of people with internal and external opportunities over the years and has been hugely successful in this. In terms of giving back to the community, he also feels blessed to give money to nonprofits that Parx feels aligned with. “The team-building D&I is also part of my passion from my football experience, building effective teams inside and out. The challenge was that no one knew what the business case was for D&I and how to integrate that into a strategy within a corporation or company,” he observes.

Ron works with various communities and gets to strategize ways of being effective with people, vendors, and construction, to bring those people to the table, which is his ongoing passion. “We have a lot of regulatory challenges as a casino and also a lot of opportunities. I speak at a lot of events and am on 18 Boards of directors helping them with governance. That’s part of our mission, and we challenge and encourage our leadership to be part of that group,” he says.

Building Bridges and Reaching For Excellence

Ron notes that Parx Casino has been at the forefront of the D&I strategy from day one. While it’s required and regulated and part of it is reporting and the metrics as they exist with people and business, Parx is always reaching for excellence, which includes people, not only from a standpoint of construction and vendors but those who work internally and in the community. Parx has built bridges to each of them with a strategic focus daily.

“We’re involved in so many great programs and organizations and have allowed the growth of opportunity for those who want to help others. Parx shares its success with the community from day one. The first concept we put together was that we want to share our success, not just financially, but with our volunteers in the community. I’m so proud to represent Parx in that capacity, to share our success in so many ways, whether it’s serving on the boards of directors, or connecting those who haven’t been at the table with the opportunity,” says Ron.

Parx has an innovative program called the Bridge program, where they take returning citizens, people who were incarcerated and are coming out of prison and going through a college course (I am more program) bring them into the Parx workforce, for an internship, to see if there is a fit. The local Community College of Philadelphia is a huge partner, along with Bucks County Community College, in that they have programs to underscore workforce development in both, but Parx does it through D&I strategy initiatives.

With the Community College of Philadelphia, Parx has a strategy of supporting the CME (Center for Male Engagement), which includes men of color, women’s leadership, veterans’ pride, and the disabled. They do similar things with the Bucks County Community College and try to celebrate, educate, engage, and inspire organizations outside the community. They also reach for excellence with active, intentional participation in breast cancer awareness, reaching out to seniors, and feeding the homeless.

“Inspiration can bring huge benefits to a company and our board of directors, senior staff, and employees are all engaged in the thought leadership of how to benefit others,” says Ron. “As responsible gaming officers, we also connect with organizations that may help people with gambling addiction and other areas. We support them, and I’m proud to be on a board that does that externally. We met in Atlanta and it was so inspiring to hear inspiring words from Dr. King’s Daughter, Bernice King. I want to be like her, to be a vessel of good. That’s how I see myself and my contribution.”

Connecting With The Communities Of Care

Parx has a diversity Council that’s very effective and comes up with strategies on an ongoing basis to affect its business resource groups (BRGs). These groups not only believe in supporting Parx but are bringing a uniqueness to the table and expressing it through engagement, education, and celebration of opportunities.

They bring together people of color, seniors, veterans, women, and abilities groups that have developed as Warriors for D&I within the organization and externally and support all organizations that are important in the community. These internal groups are involved in groups such as the American Red Cross, NAACP, UNCF, The Asian, African, and Hispanic Chambers of Commerce, Women’s Business Enterprise Council, Eastern Minority Enterprise Council, and Bucks County Tour of Honor.

Ron points out that things took an interesting turn of events since the murder of George Floyd and other events. He believes that D&I helps organizations that want to connect with the communities of care and adds another level of respect, sending a clear message that an understanding, caring organization is valued as it goes forward.

“We just received an award for being the #1 caring organization in our region, and we’re certainly proud of our awards. We have an award from the state department as a significant caring company in America. We found that local business was so important that we wanted to measure the metrics I use to define small businesses and those who’ve been at the table. So, the cleaner is important to us, the local people who take care of all our stuff on campus, cut the grass, their local organizations, we want to make sure they’re taken care of,” Ron maintains.

Going Above and Beyond to Support Employees & Communities

Ron outlines some of the unique and important reasons why people want to support Parx. For example, the company is always looking for new partnerships, like community colleges and any partner that could bring value to the table. Parx gives millions of dollars to charity annually.

Parx also chose to increase its outreach to other colleges and universities in conjunction with the ones they have right now. Ron likens it to Star Trek’s Starship Enterprise, which explores bold, new worlds where they’ve never gone before, that they want to look at and be open to. He notes that thought leadership is part of it, but out-of-the-box thinking may just be what they need to get it done in the future.

Ron’s roadmap for Parx is to continue to build partnerships and find ways to share its message, not only with the community but the world. As they create a bigger footprint as an organization, he’s making sure that message continues through their footprint, the opportunities with the colleges, and workforce development.

“I think workforce development is the next level of understanding for all of us. How do we stimulate the new workforce, whatever that is? Where do you find talent? Talent acquisition is a new frontier because there are so many things happening that affect workforce development,” he observes. “Inclusion, bringing people and ideas to the table. We want to be innovative as we move forward as an organization and as a community.”

Parx spends a lot of time externally looking at the governance of organizations and that’s paid off tremendously because it’s seen as an involved community. They plan celebrations for employees and have a great scholarship program. Over the years they have given three to four hundred thousand dollars in scholarships.

Parx also does a tour of honor for veterans, sending them to Washington to see all the monuments. They come back in a bus caravan and have people waving flags for them. “It’s a transformational, team-building message for us at Parx, how we care about our veterans. We want to be seen as a family, feeling good and we reach out to others to bring them in,” says Ron.

Parx also has a support fund, which was created by the CEO and board, to help employees deal with challenges. They can apply and get extra money to help them. It proved especially helpful during the pandemic. They also have a company called Square that matches up to any nonprofit through third-party funds. Employees can select any nonprofit to support and Parx will match up to 500 volunteer hours and offer 10 dollars per hour credit toward that goal.

Ron believes that individuals who help in building a caring community have it within them to be part of something good. He insists that if you don’t have people with compassion and empathy, you can’t do anything. People usually see themselves as a vessel and want to be part of a team that makes a statement.

Ron does his part by giving them a special treat, a little book called Robert’s Rules of Order, on the correct way to conduct meetings in a parliamentary manner. “I think that’s a great gift for them and me. It’s for their future. These are the things we do to stimulate interest, finding ways to assist them in their journey,” he says.

Taking a Look at the Man in the Mirror

Ron sees his life as an interesting juggling act and is not sure his family sees him as a troubadour warrior. As a sensitive soul, he feels the need to constantly evaluate where he is with that. “I’m not perfect, and my evaluation comes weekly, but my family realizes that some of the things I need to do are truly deep in my mind, heart, and soul. As the Michael Jackson song said, ‘Take a look at the man in the mirror’ and I’m glad I’ve introspected on my thought process. I try to do that weekly. I think happiness for everybody is in his head, doing things that you deem important in your life, whether family, business, or whatever. And we’re a faith-based family, so it’s a constant evaluation,” he explains.

Ron sees the fact that he doesn’t have a regular day as a blessing. He does what he can to plan but likes to be always accessible and something always pops up. He’s always open to people calling with whatever challenge they have because he understands that they need a quick response. “We get stuff done,” he declares.

Keep Going, Don’t Quit

Ron shares that his wife, Diane Davis, wrote a book about their life called Tragic Victory, that outlines the challenges he and his wife have gone through. “We’ve lost two kids. And we raised a five-year-old who’s going to college this year. So, we’re proud of that. You can get the book on Amazon. It’s a 24-hour read. It’s gotten great reviews and presents our story,” he says.

One of the things Ron tries to do is collect people in his achievement. “I collect people to thoughts or ideas, and my greatest achievement is to listen, not to respond, but listen with great thought. A lot of people don’t value the ability to listen to a person. To me, it has been a gift and with that, if you listen you can do many things,” he says.

Another action that Ron believes in is giving credit to those who deserve it. “I think you can get more done that way. Another principle is to never quit, based on a poem, a gift from my mother,” he says, sharing the poem called, ‘Keep Going’ by Edgar Guest:

When things go wrong, as they sometimes will,
And the road you’re trudging seems all uphill,
When the funds are low and the debts are high,
And you want to smile, but you have to sigh,
When care is pressing you down a bit,
Rest if you must, but don’t you quit.

Life is queer with its twists and turns,
As every one of us sometimes learns.
And many a failure turns about
When he might have won had he stuck it out.
Don’t give up though the pace seems slow,
You may succeed with another blow.

Often the goal is nearer than it seems
To a faint and faltering man.
Often the struggler has given up when he
Might have captured the Victor’s Cup,
And he learned too late when the night slipped down,
How close he was to the golden crown.

Success is failure turned inside out,
The silver tint of the clouds of doubt,
And you never can tell how close you are.
It may be near when it seems afar.
So stick to the fight when you’re hardest hit.
It’s when things seem worst that
You mustn’t quit.

“My mother was a very positive woman who recited poems sometimes going to funerals. She was a fighter and I only saw her cry once in her life when she recited that poem because she couldn’t take it anymore. So, it’s a very important part of my life,” Ron reflects.

In his parting words of wisdom, Ron reiterates this message, saying, “Don’t quit. There are times in business that you think everyone understands, and they may not. Learn to listen. Listen for an opportunity. Listen for direction. Listen for connection with others. Be creative in solutions but look to people to bring some of those to the table, so you’re listening and valuing the teams that you’re listening to and bringing them together in a cohesive message. Measure the size of your problem and find out where the resources are that you already have. And, if there’s a person who can help, reach out. Stand on someone’s shoulders. So, find a way, but don’t quit!”