He’s a lawyer, musician, ordained pastor, teacher, writer, lecturer, diversity advocate and student of black history. For now. (The list keeps growing).
He’s a multifaceted Mr. Everything, confident and curious, polished, personable, well spoken and well read, ready always to embrace every new opportunity presented to him.
That unquenchable thirst for new challenges has created a 21-page curriculum vitae covering not only numerous prestigious positions in academia and city and state government but a list of 70 lectures, 55 published articles and 25 board and civic involvements. Whew!
David Fryson soared like a rocket from his modest launching pad on Washington Hollow in Dunbar. A school drum major and a musician who played professionally at age 11, he traveled extensively with the popular band Ebony and the Greek.
Preparing for life as a band director, he earned a music education degree from West Virginia State. Later, as horizons broadened, he used a law degree from WVU to build an impressive legal career.
The thread of church work laces through all of it.
At 63, he’s in transition. After a stint as legal counsel and vice president for diversity at WVU, he recently moved back to Dunbar. He works part-time for WVU, writing and waiting for the next opportunity.
“I grew up in Washington Hollow in West Dunbar. My father worked at Charleston Transit, washing buses. He married my mother, and she had five kids and they had three more, so I come from a family of eight.
“When my father retired, he had a little truck and three lawnmowers, so he cut grass and did gardening and used his three sons as free labor.
“I think poverty is a mindset, and we did not have a mindset of poverty. My father was an extremely good provider. He had chickens and turkeys and a hog pen and eight to ten apple trees. He was a go-getter. He instilled in us that we could do anything. He invested in music for us. We had trains. I have an unbelievable train set in storage in Morgantown.
“We lived so close to West Virginia State, a bastion then of intellectual prowess and black achievement. It was an unbelievable experience. For instance, from a musical standpoint, I was taken under the wing of the chairman of the music department at State, Dr. Leon Thompson.
“I started playing professionally in clubs when I was 11, drums and some keyboards. I wanted to be James Brown’s drummer from the time I was 6. I ended up with a degree in music education at State.
“My hope was to be a band director. But I had other opportunities to develop intellectually and I tried to take advantage of those.
“I was a drum major at Dunbar Junior High. I was playing with King Curtis. This was after Curtis Price went to college. On weekends, we were on the stage playing warmup for these groups, Percy Sledge, the Drifters, and on Monday, I would turn back into a 12-year-old being yelled at for not climbing the rope in gym.
“In the seventh grade, I won a talent show for playing the piano. From then on, the perception of me was music.
“In the 11th grade, two friends and I went to DC to play with the Dynamic Superiors, a Motown group with three albums. My plan was not to return to school my senior year. This well-known group, the Delphonics, wanted us to come to the Watershed and go on the fall tour, but the club burned down with all our stuff in it, so I had to come and finish high school, which was the best thing that could have happened to me.
“My plan was to go back on the road, so I never took college entrance exams. We were supposed to go out in late August, but it fell through. The music department chair at State called and said he’d heard my road thing fell through and I should come to State.
“I hadn’t taken any of the pre-college stuff. The only way I could get in school was to major in criminal justice. I had two criminal justice classes and all the other classes were in music.
“I was prepared to be a band director, but because of religious concerns, I couldn’t march on Friday nights or Saturdays.
“I grew up as a Baptist. My mother became a Seventh-day Adventist when I was in the seventh grade. I was a Seventh-day Adventist for 26 years. No longer. I’m non-denominational.
“I got with Ebony and the Greek in ‘71 and ’72. I went to college for a year and a half and went back on the road with Ebony and the Greek for a couple of years. We were very close to making it. We were quite a band.
“In the middle of that, I felt a calling, from a religious standpoint, to get off the road, and I came back and finished school. I married Joy and had a child, so it took me a few years. I graduated in ’79.
“I started speaking and preaching in ‘1976 when I became an elder in the Seventh-day Adventist Church we were married in, a pretty exclusively white church. I wanted to push that envelope, even there.
“I was involved in four churches in Morgantown. That is the core of my life.
“I did some substitute teaching and ended up as an administrator at the Job Corps. I started having conversations there with [faculty member] Jim Parker, an attorney. He said I should absolutely go to law school.
“It goes back to a story. When I was in fourth grade, I didn’t talk much, like a self-imposed mutism. I would be in class and I would know the answer, but I wouldn’t say because I was painfully shy. In the fifth grade, they held me back. I had always been a reader. I was reading my brother’s eighth-grade books, but because I didn’t talk, they thought I wasn’t ready.
“The next year, every single day, I went to the principal’s office to say that I shouldn’t have been held back. It got to be a standing joke. By doing that, I found my voice.
“The next year, I was double promoted, so I caught up with my class. Sometimes out of difficulties you find your voice. I realized that if I didn’t stand up for myself, no one else would.
“I was going to apply to law school. This was 1982. Everybody said, ‘You’re going to law school? Don’t you know that’s a doctor of jurisprudence?’ A family member saw my entrance essay and said, ‘Who wrote that for you?’ It so challenged me that I didn’t apply.
“The Rockefeller administration hired me as an industrial rep. After a couple of years, the Moore administration took over. Lysander Dudley was our director. When I said I’d really like to go to law school, he said he would do anything he could to help me.
“I didn’t tell anybody about taking the LSAT. The WVU law school called and said I did great on the LSAT. They wanted me to come, and they had some money for me. We had three children, and we packed up everything and I went to law school in 1985.
“I would work for Lysander whenever I had time. Christmas break, summers. And Joy worked. And we had the school loans and we made it through the three years.
“My first job was with Monty Preiser when Stanley Preiser, a legal icon, was still there.
“They had an intern working on this civil rights case about minority hiring in the police and fire departments. They weren’t civil rights attorneys. They were personal injury attorneys. I worked on that case even after I left Preiser. It was somewhat of a landmark case. We expedited minority hiring for police officers and firemen.
“In West Virginia, we really need to push the envelope for inclusion. I ended up as a diversity professional, this whole idea of inclusion, true equality.
“I accepted a job to be city attorney for South Charleston, the first African-American city attorney for South Charleston.
“Then I worked for McQueen and Brown, a defense firm. I went in private practice. At same time, I was the first African-American city attorney for city of Dunbar.
“I was board president of the Charleston OIC and was pretty instrumental in getting Leon Sullivan Way named for Dr. Sullivan. When he came in for that naming, I spent some time with him. I told him I was at a crossroads about whether to stay here and continue to fight the battle or go somewhere else. He said we need people in our home state who are really going to fight for justice.
“Sullivan was chairman of the OIC board. I told him and the new president of the OIC to let me know if there was anything I could do to help. A couple months later, I got this call asking me to be national OIC vice president in D.C. After three or four months, Dr. Sullivan died. It was a chance of a lifetime to work with this icon, so that was a big blow.
“Right after that, 9/11 happened and D.C. kind of shut down. So we moved back and I picked up on my private practice.
“I went to WVU from Akron, Ohio, where I had a relationship with this church. Bishop T.D Jakes came and I went up. I felt like the bishop was hurting for home. This was 2005. I put this thing together with Multifest for him to come home so we could honor him. There were 10,000 people on the Capitol grounds.
“The bishop at that church asked me to move to Akron, a 6,000 member church. I came in as chief ministry officer.
“I thought my legal career was over, and I was going to do full time ministry, my first time to be a paid minister. I was there over three years.
“WVU wanted to go in a different direction in terms of diversity. I came in as deputy general counsel for first two years and then they opened it up for me to establish this division of diversity of equity inclusion. I was there eight years.
“We opened some doors. We have two big audacious goals. One was to change the perception about diversity in West Virginia. People around the state don’t think we have any diversity. Nobody knows about the great and glorious civil rights history we have. I talk about Booker T. Washington, Carter G. Woodson, Leon Sullivan.
“One part was to change the perception. The other part was to change the reality. I believe if we don’t become more diverse as a state, if we don’t become more accepting and open, we are going to lose ourselves.
“We have to do something to attract young people, people of color, people who are on the outside. That will make our economy vibrant.
“I had a health scare in May, a wakeup call. I talked to the WVU president about retiring. He suggested a phased retirement. So I still work three days for the university on special projects.
“At WVU in 2016, we had the largest, most diverse class in school history. Our applications from 2015 and 2016 from African-American students went up 99 percent, Hispanic students 54 percent and for Asian students, 62 percent. By going out and making a case that WVU is welcoming, people will start to look toward us.
“This is a transition as I continue to work for the university and continue to write.
“I’m doing some writing about the African-American educated experience in West Virginia. Nobody realizes that many people of color used to come to West Virginia because they had education opportunities.
“As we looked at rephasing — I don’t even like to say retiring — we decided to move back to Charleston. There is a lot of work to be done here in terms of inclusion. With inclusion, the future of West Virginia is very bright.
“I feel fortunate to have explored all the different avenues in my life without getting stuck. Under all of that is faith, not just religious faith, just faith that we were put here for a purpose and opportunities are given to us. It normally takes you out of your comfort level, but any time opportunities open themselves, you have to do it then. Too many people look back and wonder what could have been.”