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Meet the candidate: Fredrick Davis

Editors’ Note: Eleven candidates — all Democrats — are vying for five seats on the Durham County Board of Commissioners in the March 5 election. No Republicans or Libertarians have entered the contest, so the March 5 results will determine who sits on the commission. The 9th Street Journal is profiling candidates in the race.

As Fredrick Davis departed the Durham church where he had just begun pastoring, he drove past a small wooden building that typically eluded his attention. Sealed behind boarded windows and swarming with pigeons, this eerie “drug-infested facility” was, by all accounts, a tear-down.

But Davis had a vision. Learning it was county surplus property, he purchased the building for $25 in 1992, he says. 

Today, music reverberates through the halls as families gather in what was once an eyesore. The Community Family Life & Recreation Center at Lyon Park, where Davis is founder and chairman of the board, attracts Durham residents of all ages: toddlers stumbling around the center’s pre-K classes, students with special needs shooting basketball hoops in the gymnasium, families visiting the center’s Duke health clinic outpost, and senior citizens (or in Davis’ terms, “mature adults”) convening to puzzle and sew.

This $6.4 million project was no easy feat, but Davis is proud of the results.

The initiative also attracted new congregants to First Calvary Baptist Church, where Davis pastored for 31 years before retiring in 2022. In that time, church membership grew from 150 congregants to 1,200, Davis says. 

On a recent Saturday, Davis, 67, sports a cherry-red sweater vest and corduroy pants. He has a warm, resonant laugh that naturally elicits laughter in return. Davis is one of 11 Democrat candidates vying for five seats on the Durham County Board of Commissioners. Davis, who describes himself as a moderate, has received an endorsement from the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People.

“I’m running as a community activist,” he says. “What sets me apart is my integrity as a servant leader.” 

Pastoral ministry brought Davis, originally from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to Durham in 1991. He holds an undergraduate degree from Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte and a master’s in religion from Morehouse College in Atlanta.  

Despite his religious background, Davis describes himself as “interfaith.” 

“I respect the belief system of all people,” he says. “You name it: Shintoism, Hinduism, Judaism, Baháʼí Faith, Islam, Judaism, non-spirituality.” 

Though First Calvary is a Baptist church, it is not a member of the Southern Baptist Convention, and it rejects some of that denomination’s more conservative perspectives, such as its stance on the ordination of women as ministers. “I’ve ordained, personally, as a pastor, over 15 women,” Davis says.

Davis raised his three children in Durham with his wife of 50 years, his former high school sweetheart. “And I plan on being buried in the cemetery right over there,” he points outside the community center window. 

Davis previously served two terms on the Durham school board, from 2006 to 2014. 

More recently, the school system is currently suffering from the results of a payroll snafu. Workers were given raises, and then the raises were retracted when the school board learned that the payments would cost nearly $9 million over budget. The schools’ financial woes will likely be a major topic for the Board of Commissioners going forward. When asked how the commissioners should respond to the schools’ payroll crisis, however, Davis declined to comment. 

Minnie Forte-Brown, who served on the Durham school board with Davis and is the president of the North Carolina School Boards Association, praises Davis’ work in the West End and in the Durham community.     

“With his vision and his work ethic, he’s not somebody just pipe dreaming,” she said. “He’s going to get in the trenches with you and get it done.”

While on the school board, Davis says he fought for marginalized students and families and gained additional experience dealing with budgets. “The community center was also a $6.4 million project. The church bill was $7.2 million,” he says. “I know about budgeting.” 

He worries that young people are not aware of the opportunities that exist for them here in Durham and wants to incentivize students to remain in the local workforce. 

“Let’s offer corporations that are moving here an employment base to draw from,” he says. “Everybody…from Apple doesn’t have to come from California or Connecticut. What about the people who grew up here?” 

Davis says he is also passionate about governmental transparency and safe, affordable housing.

“What distinguishes me is my name on the grassroots level,” he says. “From as far as Rosemont, as far as South Lake, as far as…the senior JJ Henderson towers, to right here in the West End.”

Early voting continues through March 2, and the election takes place March 5. 

Above: Photo of Fredrick Davis by Maddie Wray — The 9th Street Journal