BLAYRE HOLMES DAVIS, a 2008 Ringgold High School graduate, is the new director of community relations for the Pittsburgh Steelers (Photo by Brian Cook Sr.)
by Christian Morrow, Courier Staff Writer
Over the last decade, she has opened medical offices in Turtle Creek and by the Allegheny County Jail to serve vulnerable populations and provided leadership and educational training to hundreds of young girls throughout Allegheny County. Now Blayre Holmes Davis is putting her skills and vast reservoir of nonprofit contacts and relationships to work as the new director of community relations for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
“You can’t be the director of community relations unless you’re in the community,” Davis told the New Pittsburgh Courier in an exclusive interview. “I wanted to make sure that coming from the nonprofit sector that we ask what are the needs, and what are those we can support. There are a lot of great organizations in Pittsburgh and we have to be aware of what they are doing.”
Davis, 30, grew up in Donora and Monessen, where her father, Robert Holmes, retired from Peoples Gas, and mother, Darla, retired from California University of Pa., run Christian Life Ministries. Davis attended Ringgold High School and is a 2012 graduate of Cal U. She met her husband, state Rep. Austin Davis, D-McKeesport, nine years ago at an August Wilson Center event. They celebrated their second wedding anniversary, Sept. 2.
In addition to taking the pulse of the community, Davis is also tasked with supporting and promoting community and charitable initiatives coming from the team, the individual players and the NFL, addressing issues ranging from food security and student literacy rates to helping veterans and children’s health.
She said the balance is about 50-50 with initiatives coming from the community versus those coming from the team and the league—like its social justice initiative which looks to increase opportunities and make improvements in the areas of education and economic advancement, community-police relations, and criminal justice reform.
“It’s funny timing. When I came in, the league had just launched NFL100 to encourage volunteerism, a great new initiative and competition,” she said. “I don’t like reinventing the wheel, so I can say to organizations that the league is launching this new initiative. So it lets us think about new and creative ways to encourage civic engagement for the team and individuals as well. The team with the most volunteer hours gets a grant from the NFL.”
Davis said this year, for the first time, the Steelers will release a community report at the end of the season.
“It will showcase the work we’ve always done and look at where we want to go,” she said. And of course, we have a community calendar on our website. There’s Heroes at Heinz Field, where people can do activities with players, activities supporting vets, a mentoring partnership—a lot of great stuff. The Boys and Girls Club in McKeesport is doing renovations and we’ll have a player at the ribbon-cutting, and of course, the Rock Steelers Style Fashion Show.”
Just yesterday, Sept. 10, a number of Steelers rookie players spent time at UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital, and “for the new moms and new babies, they (the players) gave them Steelers onesies and terrible towels,” Davis said.
Davis plays a vital role in making these types of community events happen.
Davis said the team—and her department—have a busy season already, but they are nimble enough to take advantage of opportunities that arise unexpectedly. Davis said after reading a recent study, she began working on partnerships and outreach related to improving African American student literacy.
“We want to be outcome-focused,” she said. “How can we be supportive and help these kids because literacy is key to going on to a better life. So we’re looking at having players come in and (have reading sessions) with kids, give them books to read at home, partnering with educators. How can we get to where we say, in five years, that this is how we’ve helped solve this problem.”
Davis said the Steelers are a great organization to work for, especially with the Rooney family’s long history of charitable work.
“When I first heard of the job I was with Adagio Health and wasn’t even looking,” she said. “But some people recommended me, and I came in and we talked about the work they are doing, how to build capacity and the Rooney family history. So it felt like a good fit and I’ve received a very warm welcome. It just felt right.”
Davis’ boss, Omar Khan, vice president of football operations and business administration, said almost the same thing about Davis.
“We did a real thorough search, and her name kept coming up as someone we should talk to and she really impressed us,” Khan told the Courier. “Her drive, the care she has for these issues, it felt right. She’s awesome. She’s done a great job in only a few months.”
Khan said whether players do their charity and community outreach through foundations they’ve set up or on their own, Davis is reaching out to them to see if and how the team can help. He said she is currently looking at helping Steelers player Maurkice Pouncey expand and improve his police-community relations events.
“We’ve been doing some great things,” Khan said. “She’s brought in some new ideas and has taken an aggressive approach in looking at things for the organization to take part in, and in seeing how we can take the things we’ve always been involved in to the next level.”
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