Reshelle Burns Davis learned her survival skills growing up in a family of eight children in Liberty City. Mom was a public school teacher; dad cooked for Amtrak. When they weren’t home, she often had to look after her siblings.
“I came from a strong, disciplined family,” said Davis, who after attending Florida Memorial College worked for almost 15 years in the Miami-Dade public schools. “Of all the kids in my family, I was the one with the mother instinct.”
Over the years, she has had to muster that innate skill to overcome setbacks that would have tested the patience of Job: her brother was fatally shot years ago in a murder that is still unsolved. As a single mother, she raised three sons, including home-schooling the youngest, Edward, who is severely autistic.
Unable to make ends meet on disability payments, she and Edward, 17, lived on the streets near bus stops and drive-though windows for six months until earlier this year. When they scraped up enough money, they would rent a room at the El Palacio Hotel in Northwest Miami-Dade.
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“I was exhausted all the time,” Davis, 53, told the Miami Herald during an interview at her daily hangout, the McDonald’s on Northwest Seventh Avenue and 95th Street. “I just kept praying to get through it all.”
Finally, a government assistance program, HAND, helped her find a low-income apartment in the Miami Gardens area. The family then moved to another place closer to Liberty City. But Davis struggled to pay the rent and feed her family on a $735-a-month disability check from Social Security. She was not only taking care of Edward around the clock, but was also looking after her 19-year-old middle son, Edwin.
Then, another trauma struck the Davis family this fall. While sleeping in their one-bedroom apartment on Northwest 103rd Street, Davis and Edward came within inches of being killed when a gang member sprayed their building with bullets. Edwin was at a friend’s house. The shooter took aim from across the street, targeting someone who lived in the area.
Bullets shattered the front window and ripped holes in the walls of the family’s third-floor apartment. One shot grazed Davis’ left knee.
“I believe God just woke me up at the right time,” Davis said. “I grabbed Edward and I grabbed my cellphone, but I felt something wet — it was blood coming down my leg. ... I was scared, my son was scared.”
That brush with death jolted Davis into finding a safer neighborhood for her family. She obtained help from a longtime Miami-Dade social service agency, CCDH, which contributed $800 toward securing another apartment.
But Davis said she needs another $1,000 to afford the first month’s rent and a security deposit for a new place. She also needs furniture, including queen- and twin-sized bed sets, along with a laptop for Edward. After home-schooling, he enrolled in Miami Central Senior High School this fall. He hopes to receive his “special” diploma from high school next spring.
Clara Smith, a program analyst for the Agency for Persons with Disabilities, who has assisted the Davis family over the years, contacted the Miami Herald to nominate them for a Wish Book profile. “The family wants to move but does not have the funds,” Maria Linares, the agency’s regional program supervisor, wrote in an email.
Davis, who is living temporarily with her family at a girlfriend’s apartment in Opa-locka, has not found the right place yet. Ideally, Davis, who has to take the bus to get around, wants her new home to be located between Miami Central and her son’s favorite store, Walmart, near Sun Life Stadium.
Said Davis: “I just pray to God to hurry up and get us a place.”
▪ How to help: Wish Book is trying to help hundreds of families in need this year. To donate, pay securely at MiamiHerald.com/wishbook. To give via mobile phone, text WISH TO 41444. For information, call 305-376-2906 or email wishbook@MiamiHerald.com. (Most requested items: laptops and tablets for school, furniture, accessible vans.) Read more at MiamiHerald.com/wishbook.