Activist Kory Davis left a lasting impact through leading by example. During a public vigil Sunday, Davis’ friends, family and colleagues crowded inside Unitarian Universalist Church to share stories, listen to music honoring Davis and commit to carrying on the message that motivated Davis for so many years.

Davis was remembered as a loving parent and a kind and accepting friend with an ability to bring people together to seek societal change. They died Dec. 13 at age 29. (Editor’s note: Davis preferred the pronouns “they/them.”)

“If I had to choose one word to describe Kory, it would be love,” Michela Skelton told the crowd.

Davis had previously organized support for Skelton, vice-chair of the Missouri Democratic Party Progressive Caucus, during her campaign for state representative in November.

“Kory’s love for all of us transformed into a brave activism that I will forever be grateful for,” she said.

Persephone “Seph” Dakopolos, who co-founded Our Revolution: Mid-Missouri with her husband, Tao Weilundemo, recalled Davis being elected chair of the organization in March 2018.

“Countless hours, evenings, nights, weekends, when others were simply enjoying their lives, Kory was toiling away in union halls and meeting rooms and rallied in the streets,” Dakopolos said.

“It’s clear to me now that he was fighting to protect us from the very pain and darkness that he had endured,” she said.

The qualities that made Kory a great leader were the same qualities that made them a good friend, Dakopolos said.

“He genuinely listened no matter how mundane or trivial your troubles were. And you had a sense that when Kory was listening, he was taking a moment to walk in your shoes,” she said. “Kory didn’t shy away from your challenges, but he loved to share in your joys and triumphs.”

Dakopolos shared another story reflecting Davis’ compassion while Our Revolution was organizing during the election season last November.

“We were based in an old Sub Shop south of town with no heat, no outlet covers and little running water,” she said. “It was my job to manage the office and also care for my 1½-year-old son who really likes to play with outlets.”

The next day, Kory bought space heaters and placed covers on the outlets, Dakopolos said.

“He brought blankets and toys and he barricaded the perimeters because not only was Kory that level of thoughtful but he also loved kids,” Dakopolos said.

Skelton recognized the bond between Davis and Davis’ son, Juniper.

“I saw Kory and Junie together at different events, and the love between them was sweet and untarnished,” she said. “The look of adoration for Junie that I saw on Kory’s face as we watched our children play hide-and-seek together in the ornamental grass at one of the many rallies we attended will be a memory that I will always hold dear.”

Kory’s mother, Rita Woods, 60, described her child as unfailingly kind.

“I remember one time when he was probably 7 and he looked out the window and there were some older boys in the neighborhood pulling on the limbs of a very small tree,” she said. “He was very upset, and he ran outside and said, ‘Don’t hurt that tree.’ He was always respectful of other forms of life.”

Dani Perez, 31, attended Central Methodist  University* with Davis and said they bonded over “nerdy stuff” like anime and science. They also shared a love for civil rights and community service and joined the same fraternity dedicated to community service.

“Ever since I have known them, they were a generous person. As our motto goes in Alpha Phi Omega, ‘Be a leader, be a friend, be of service.’”

Violet Vonder Haar, 30, Davis’ former roommate and frontwoman of the band Violet and the Undercurrents, performed live music at the vigil Sunday.

As roommates, the two bonded over breakups.

“It was a very healing experience,” Vonder Haar said. “We had this huge canvas that we ended up painting together with my cousin. It’s still hanging in my garage.”

The last time they saw each other was at a rally to protest Donald Trump’s arrival at the Columbia Regional Airport, where Vonder Haar performed and Davis spoke.

Going forward, Skelton stressed the need to continue the work that Davis began.

“Our community is better for having had Kory in it and for our continuing love for one another and for vulnerable people,” Skelton said.

Kory is survived by their son, Juniper Davis; father, Eddie (Sue) Davis of Higbee; mother, Rita Woods of Columbia; sister, Amberly (Benjamin) Schulz; stepsister, Charity Barnes; and stepbrother, Erik Barnes.

A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Dec. 19 at Parker-Millard Funeral Home.

Supervising editor is Claire Colby.

  • Taylor Shortal is a student enrolled in the University of Missouri school of journalism and the school of law. He was born in St. Louis, Missouri, and was raised in Columbia, Missouri.

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