Anthony Davis sees no need to wait until he graduates to start making a difference. A former US Marine, Davis is dedicated to the cause of ending homelessness among his fellow veterans. So, in addition to tackling an accelerated dual-degree course load at Suffolk Law School and the Sawyer Business School, he has launched a nonprofit, Argos Remembers, which brings veterans together to share knowledge and help each other access government benefits.
“I’m in the perfect position, because for all the legal questions I have as a law student, I can go to my law professors, and for all the nonprofit questions that arise, I can talk to my business professors. I am surrounded by experts in both fields.”
Veterans helping veterans
The organization enlists veteran volunteers as “battle buddies” serving in one-on-one partnerships with homeless or at-risk veterans to help them access benefits they have earned but that, for various reasons, they have not received.
The name is derived from Homer’s Odyssey. Odysseus, the king of Ithaca, disguises himself as a beggar to win back his kingdom from those who have usurped it while he fought in the Trojan War. He is recognized nonetheless by his faithful old dog Argos.
“We’ve all made sacrifices as veterans, and we deserve the benefits we get,” explains Davis. “However, you also have an obligation to the next guy. You have an obligation to the guys before you.”
Davis served in the US Marine Corps from 2003 to 2009. During an arduous recovery process following a non-combat-related injury, he had plenty of time both to interact with the Veterans Administration in pursuit of his benefits and to reflect on his experience. He realized that other people might be going through the same things as he was.”
Davis started helping other service members apply for federal veterans’ benefits.
“I helped my brother Nick do his claim,” says Davis. “I helped a few of the guys I served with do theirs. I started to really know the idiosyncrasies of the VA’s complex system. So I realized that a lot of these guys who have valid claims are still being denied because they lack the knowledge of how the system works.”
New chapter, new challenges
In 2014, Davis enrolled at Suffolk University in a dual-degree JD/Master of Public Administration program, throwing himself into courses year-round to graduate in less than three years.
He has used his time at Suffolk strategically to lay the groundwork for his veterans initiative. Early in 2015, he joined a trip to Washington, DC, through a class taught by Business Law & Ethics and Public Administration Professor Linda Melconian.
“I got to meet all types of people, from congressmen and senators to think tank and legislative staff, and talk to them about veterans’ issues,” Davis recalls.
This kind of close contact with public leadership didn’t end with the DC trip, however. That summer, Davis landed a fellowship working in the office of Massachusetts State Sen. Eric Lesser, a member of the state’s Joint Committee on Veterans and Federal Affairs, and got a firsthand look at public policy challenges.
“I was talking with some significant people, I spoke with [Secretary of Housing and Urban Development] Julián Castro; I was talking with the mayor of Los Angeles; I met with Bob Shumeyko, a regional director in Housing and Urban Development. I worked with a lot of the leading government officials, and I got to see how people were talking about this issue at the top.”
Making a connection
Davis resolved to reach out to those veterans on the periphery of everyday society. As he talked one-on-one with them, he realized that the crucial element missing from the institutional effort was the personal connection with a fellow veteran.
“Most of them say that what they appreciate more than your help is conversation,” he says. “I know I have them when they start making eye contact. Because then they have their self-respect back, and you can help them see that it doesn’t have to be like this. That’s the best feeling in the world, when a guy who has been struggling for the last 20 years starts to look you in the eye over a cup of coffee and starts to share stories. It’s like, ‘yes, this guy’s gonna get better.’”
By the time his stint in Lesser’s office came to an end, Davis had the seed of an idea that could multiply the impact of the assistance he had been rendering on his own. “I started thinking: ‘How can I as an individual make a difference, and then hopefully have other people mirror that effort?’”
The perfect position
Davis began laying the groundwork for the organization that would become Argos Remembers this year by interviewing people with experience in launching and running nonprofits. He also consulted with Professors Gerasimos Gianakis and Brendan Burke and other faculty in the Sawyer Business School’s Institute for Public Service.
“Professor Burke suggested that I meet Sandy Matava,” Davis recalls, referring to the director of the University’s Moakley Center for Public Management. That meeting would be a turning point for the nascent organization. Through the Moakley Center, Davis received seed money and resources, including office space and equipment. Crucially, the relationship also puts him side-by-side with people who have the expertise and willingness to help turn the vision of Argos Remembers into reality.
Growing the ranks
Today the leadership and staff of Argos Remembers continues to expand and includes Davis’s brother Nick, vice president, and Suffolk classmates John McCarthy, assistant director, John Pierce Wilton, secretary and academic liaison, Dan Larson, student attorney helping with incorporation and intellectual property, and Darion Ferdinand, the first “battle buddy” brought in from outside the management team. All are committed to growing the organization’s network of veteran volunteers any way they can, including by bringing Spoehr to speak at the official launch of Argos Remembers.
“We encourage all veterans to come: veteran alumni, students, and business owners,” says Davis. “The best resource a veteran has is another veteran. And the more vets we get involved in the network we’re trying to build, the more resources we have.”