Bernadette Davis has spent the past four years teaching a group of gifted students at Hollywood’s Apollo Middle School about the inner workings of government and the nature of democracy.
On Friday, 37 of her past and present students received the ultimate civics lesson as they attended a ceremony in which Davis and 133 others were sworn in as U.S. citizens at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services building in North Miami-Dade.
The festive ceremony in a large auditorium in the building on Northwest Seventh Avenue featured videos and music and a message from President Barack Obama. Davis was chosen to lead the group in the Pledge of Allegiance.
After, the kids cheered as Davis, 45, stood in front of them waving and swaying while holding small American flags high over her head, one in each hand.
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“The kids were always asking me, ‘When are you going to become a citizen?’” Davis explained. “Since both my parents have passed, I feel I can officially say this is my home now.”
One of those kids, a 13-year-old eighth-grader named Sulianne, said she chose to attend the swearing-in even though she had some important work to do at school.
“But supporting my teacher and learning these things today is more important,” she said.
Apollo Principal Shawn Aycock said the large show of students was predictable.
“They love her. They’re very excited for her. Remember,” said the principal, “in their civics class they’re learning this entire procedure.”
Davis’ route to citizenship took a circuitous path.
Born in Nassua, Bahamas, she moved to New York City when she was 19 after graduating from what was then called College of the Bahamas. Her mother, a school principal, stayed behind. Her dad, who ran a real estate company, shuttled between the Bahamas and the U.S.
In New York, she studied sociology at City College of New York, then worked at the Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center for a decade. After her mom fell ill and passed away, Davis returned to the Bahamas for a few years.
By 2007, she had moved to London where she attended another university and studied Caribbean history. She moved to South Florida in 2010 and landed a job at Apollo Middle.
She said growing up with her mom, the teacher, there was only one job she was sure she would never take: teaching. But she’s found a thrill in interacting with students.
“I learn from them and they learn from me. It’s the best thing possible,” she said.
Davis said she chose civics because she has an “unnatural obsession” with the framers, who she calls “absolutely brilliant.”
Asked if her decision to become a citizen now had anything to do with the incoming administration and its views on immigrants, Davis paused.
“I’m not going to lie to you. There was a little of that involved in it. I went for the interview the day of the election,” she said. “But now I can vote. And I’ll feel as a person more connected to this country — like my voice really matters.”