This speech was given at the July 14, 2013 Education Program graduation ceremony in tribute to the late faculty member, David Frisby III. (photo of the author and David above).
On behalf of the Education faculty, I offer homage this morning to our beloved friend, colleague, wise elder and mentor, Dr. David Allen Frisby III.
Since David’s death a little over 3 weeks ago, I’ve been reading the speeches of David’s hero, Dr. Martin Luther King. During this time spent reading King’s speeches through eyes and with a heart that was mourning David’s loss, and sensing his presence closely, I learned more deeply about how the love, compassion and non-violence King spoke of as a way of transforming an oppressive world, guided David in his daily life.
Love guided his life. He loved people. His beautiful wife Joanne, sons David, Daniel, grandsons Vaughn and Wesley, his wonderful extended family and friends in his home in New Jersey and his Goddard family – he called us his second family – in Plainfield and Seattle – faculty, students and staff.
Being the recipient of that love was like having a ray of light shine on your head. All of you who knew him experienced it. Whether it was simply a morning greeting, or whether you sat with him for hours in his office (outside under the tree) you experienced the warmth of his presence that came from his heart. He had a way of making you feel like you were the only person in the world, that what you said mattered. How many people he did this with! When you walk away from a conversation with David, you walk just a little taller, with a little more hope and belief that what you are doing in the world is making a difference.
When I came to Goddard as an adult student, I was rich with life experience in community work, but unsure of how my experience would integrate with the academic realm. Like so many people that Doc mentored during his life time, I had little confidence that my work in the world was truly valuable. He invited me to bring my full self to his table under the tree. His warm gap-toothed smile and welcoming demeanor softened my I’ve-got-nothing-to-offer-self and invited my thoughtful telling-truth-to-power self to emerge. The depth of experience that HE brought to the table in community organizing and innovative and progressive education program development was impressive.
It included developing the first Community Mental Health Center in this country at Hahnemann Medical College and Hospital in Philadelphia and founding Antioch University’s Philadelphia Center where he served as dean for 16 years. He was here at Goddard College faculty since 1972. He was instrumental in establishing the Seattle campus and the Dual Language and Early Childhood Education programs with Sharon Cronin and Theressa Lenear. He and I worked together to establish the Community Education concentration in 2008.
His passion was around education as an empowerment process for adult learners. As two community organizers, we knew the need for an academic home for people doing the work of Community Education. As David put it, “People are working in this field throughout the country, as para-professionals, in early childhood centers, working with children during after school, with community organizing and empowerment, doing environmental activism – they are addressing real needs in our communities and they’re doing it simply because it needs to get done. They are under-recognized and are the backbone of our communities.”
We created the Community Education program at Goddard to provide an academic home for these people and their work. He called Community Education “the umbrella over all these folks.” As part of this academic concentration, we developed the concept of using field study as a learning laboratory – a critical component of the concentration. This linking of field work to academic research and reflection embodies the essence of progressive education.
Community Education students at Goddard today:
- Address shifting power paradigms in education and in community;
- Name oppressive systems that keep people from fulfilling their potential and;
- Work to engage communities in becoming their best selves. Much like Doc did for all of his students.
That’s exactly what Doc did for us. He recognized what each of us had to offer the world, and he encouraged it unrelentingly.
I was fortunate to travel with him when we were developing and promoting the Community Education concentration, and observe him at work out in the world. From the person pouring his coffee in the morning to the organizational leaders we met with around the country – he knew how to engage peoples’ best selves and cared enough to make that effort, wherever he went.
We were blessed to have had David with us as long as we did. His wisdom and compassion etched expanded spaces in our hearts, and his voice in our ears inspires us today to listen to what each has to say, empower those who self-doubt and encourage people to pursue their passions. David’s legacy will live on in each person that he touched. Our work will go on, and be all the stronger for his belief in it. But we’ll have a hole in our hearts, in our residencies, in our college that will take time to heal.
It won’t be the same without him, but he’ll be encouraging us from a better place, to make our schools, our communities, the world more just and equitable for all.
We remain with deepest sorrow, yet with great joy to have had David’s presence in our lives.