Faith inspires Obama poster

Early Election Day, a woman who had gambled her mortgage payment on the election's outcome pulled up behind a boxy yellow catering truck that sold waffles, chicken, catfish and fries. It was parked outside the West Las Vegas Library, in a predominantly black part of town.

The woman, Sherry Davis-Oliver, set up a tray table on the sidewalk and lit a candle. The air smelled like jasmine.

She pulled posters from the trunk of her car, a two-door Dodge. The posters were rolled up and rubber-banded. They had been created by a California graphic designer to reflect a reality that did not yet exist.

Davis-Oliver unrolled one and taped it to the car.

It portrayed Barack Obama as the 44th president of the United States.

"I pray he wins," Davis-Oliver said.

She needed Obama to win. She sold the posters for $5 each, hoping at least to recoup the $750 she invested in them. That money was the bulk of this month's mortgage payment.

Davis-Oliver is 51 years old. She is a mother, a college graduate, a woman who has seen the world and prefers America.

She is neither crazy nor stupid. She just believes.

"I love what he's ignited," she said later on.

The posters feature Martin Luther King Jr. as well as pictures of every American president.

They were the brainchild of Myrick Wilson, Davis-Oliver's younger brother, a graphic designer in Fresno, Calif. He gave credit to one of his designers, Roger Rojos, for helping out.

"I just wanted to make a nice and inspiring design that would appeal not only to African-American people, but all people," Wilson said.

Wilson, 42, printed about 1,000 posters. He called his sister, who put in half the money. He sent her half the posters to sell here, a swing state.

Davis-Oliver does not have money to spare. She lives with her 28-year-old son, Bryson, who has autism.

She likes to tell the following story, which tells how she learned the value of a dollar, making the poster escapade all the more inexplicable.

The story is set in the late 1960s, when Davis-Oliver was about to enter middle school in Fresno.

She and her siblings complained to their mother about the school clothes she had bought them. They whined about going to school dressed this way.

Their mother, a woman named Johnnie Wilson, a woman who had worked as a waitress as a teenager to help support her own parents back when there were only so many options for a black family, was incensed.

You kids, she had said, need to learn the value of a dollar. You had better get to bed early tonight, she said, because you're waking up and going to work.

They did not believe her. But then 3 a.m. rolled around, and she woke them all.

She drove them out of town, to a place they had never been.

"Rows and rows and rows and rows of grapes," Davis-Oliver remembered. "Rows and rows. You couldn't see anything else."

To harvest grapes, you use a small, hooked knife to cut bunches from the vine. You put the bunches into a bucket. You transfer them from the bucket to a sheet of paper for drying. You do this all day long through miles of vines.

The children did this day after day, week after week, for the rest of the summer. At the end of summer, mom sat the children down at the kitchen table. She gave them their pay.

They each got about 20 cents to every dollar she had collected for working the grape fields.

The children protested. It is not fair, they said.

"This is your life," she told them, as Davis-Oliver remembers it. "You don't go to school and get your education, you will always get the pennies and somebody else will get the dollars. You don't like it? Change it."

The story helps explain why Davis-Oliver spent 33 years getting her college degree. This past May, she finally graduated with a bachelor's degree in social work.

She grew up poor in Fresno, married a military man, gave birth to Bryson. She started taking one college class per semester in 1975. A daughter followed, as did moves to military bases around the world.

The family settled in Las Vegas in 1985. A divorce came, and so did hard times. Her parents supported her for a bit.

Davis-Oliver remembered hating that. She applied for public assistance. She did not know then, as a young woman, that no work was required to get welfare. She insisted on working for the money.

She was directed toward a community work program, where she got job training, and later a job.

She worked for the state for 15 years with the Nevada State Welfare Division and the College of Southern Nevada before taking early retirement.

She works two part-time jobs now, while working on her master's degree in health promotions.

She isn't sure the direction her career will take, only that she wants to help people.

Before the election, she had never been involved in politics. But something inspired her.

It was Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York.

Davis-Oliver campaigned for Clinton for a while.

But the more she saw of Obama, the more she read about him, the more she liked him. She came slowly to Obama's side.

Which is why her brother called her with the idea about the posters.

Late last week, there were only a couple hundred left. Both Wilson and Davis-Oliver sold enough to get their money back.

They even made a small profit.

Contact reporter Richard Lake at rlake@ or 702-383-0307.


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