The Roosevelt House Public Policy Program with the CUNY Black, Race and Ethnic Studies Initiative (BRESI) invite you to a screening of the documentary short By Your Side followed by a discussion with the directors, Michael and Debbie Davis moderated by CalvinJohn Smiley, Hunter College Associate Professor of Sociology. Debbie and Michael (Africa) Davis are two members of the MOVE 9, a Black liberation and environmental organization, who, following a 1978 altercation between the Philadelphia police, were convicted and sentenced to 30-100 years in prison. Two members died in custody, while the seven remaining members, including Mike and Debbie, were granted parole and released from prison between the years 2018 through 2020.

By Your Side highlights the story of Mike and Debbie and how they maintained their relationship while in prison, separated from each other, their children, their families, and freedom. Their incarceration was defined by the 40 years in prison starting in the era of Frank Rizzo, the onetime Philadelphia police commissioner and mayor notorious for police brutality. This documentary tells the story of their determination and commitment to never giving up on liberation.

Michael and Debbie Davis are political activists, former political prisoners, as well as public speakers, film makers, directors and now producers. Michael and Debbie went from childhood sweethearts, to caring for animals, to picket signs, beatings, and arrests, which separated them for 40 years by a prison sentence. Debbie gave birth to their baby in a jail cell. That baby, Mike Africa Jr., grew up and came back to free his parents from that prison.

CalvinJohn Smiley, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor in the Sociology Department of Hunter College-City University of New York and associate faculty member of the Roosevelt House Public Policy. A critical sociologist, his work examines issues related to race, inequality, and social justice, focusing on mass incarceration and prisoner reentry. His forthcoming book, Purgatory Citizenship: Reentry, Race, and Abolition (University of California Press, May 2023), explores how individuals returning to society navigate and negotiate their reentry with diminished legal rights and amplified social stigmas. 

40 Years Apart and Imprisoned: Activism, Love, and Liberation with Debbie and Michael Davis | Posted on March 16th, 2023 | Public Policy Program Events