Personality: Demetrius W. Frazier
Spotlight on co-founder and president of Black Men Read
7/2/2020, 6 p.m.
In the wake of the murder of Philando Castile by a St. Anthony, Minn., police officer in 2016, Demetrius W. Frazier was among many searching for answers to this tragedy. Mr. Frazier, along with Lance Adams, turned to literature as a tool to forge connections with other African-American men centering on discussions around books addressing the issues that led to Mr. Castile’s death.
Mr. Frazier and Mr. Adams would make their idea a reality in 2018 with the founding of Black Men Read, an organization dedicated to igniting and empowering communities of color by inspiring literacy.
The nonprofit organization works chiefly through Henrico County schools and libraries to help foster “a lifelong love of reading” among African-American youths and men.
“I knew then and know now that the only way the Black community can move higher through these painful issues is to roll up our sleeves, get organized and be vigilant in the fight for justice and prosperity,” Mr. Frazier says. “Reading is just one of the many issues that need to be tackled.”
The Chesterfield County resident serves as the president of Black Men Read. It’s a role that has him developing strategy for fundraising and supporting high school curriculums, coordinating the organization’s adult book club and managing its social media presence. This suite of responsibilities contributes toward Black Men Read’s chief goal – “to eradicate illiteracy in the Black community.”
“Black males play a specific role in the Black community,” Mr. Frazier says. “A focus on this group will not only reduce the literacy gap but will yield positive results in the Black family, community economics and will help solidify generational progress.”
To that end, Black Men Read has a number of programs, including combining hip-hop and lyrical expression with young adult literature; build- ing bookshelves and providing reading material to help create home libraries for students and their families; and encourag- ing students to connect their reading to inner talents, like poetry.
So far, the organization’s efforts have resulted in literary support for more than 2,500 students at Henrico, Hermitage and Highland Springs high schools; creation of reading roundtables; donations of more than 500 books to several schools and libraries; and organizing and/or supporting Black History Month celebrations and other programs at schools and public libraries across Henrico, Chesterfield and Richmond.
Black Men Read also has struck partnerships with several organizations and school administrations.
In the wake of the latest outcry locally, nationally and globally surrounding George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis and the protests against police violence and racial justice, Mr. Frazier sees Black Men Read turning toward more heavier subjects than previously covered. Highland Springs High School has asked the organization to facilitate a discussion based on the book “Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America.”
The book by Ibram X. Kendi, published in 2016, won the National Book Award for Nonfiction. The book will become a platform to broach topics that are likely on the minds of African-American students at the school, Mr. Frazier says.
The discussion may require a significant adjustment in their approach, Mr. Frazier says, but one necessary to help channel a positive path toward change.
“I think if we can support the young people and all the activism and the change they’re trying to invoke, I think we can strengthen our community a lot better,” Mr. Frazier says. “I think this is a good environment for doing so. I think it’s the right time.”
Meet an advocate for empowerment through the written word and this week’s Personality, Demetrius W. Frazier:
Occupation: Director of continuous improvement at Kaiser Aluminum.
What I do: I identify operational and internal process inefficiencies in order to facilitate and implement sustained improvement across the organization. I use established methodologies such as Six Sigma, Lean and ADKAR change management to name a few.
No. 1 volunteer position: Co-founder and president of Black Men Read.
Date and place of birth: May 1977 in Queens, N.Y.
Current residence: Chesterfield County.
Education: Bachelor’s in marketing, Virginia Union University, 1999, and MBA with a focus in strategic leadership, University of Richmond, 2006.
Family: Wife, Celena Smith Frazier, and three children, Brandon, 19; Ethan, 17; and Deinna, a newborn.
When Black Men Read was founded: Black Men Read was founded as a book club in July 2018 and established as a 501(c)(3) in September 2018.
How I came up with the idea: After seeing on video the horrific murder of Philando Castile, I, along with co-founder Lance Adams, was searching for answers to painful questions about how tragedies like these happen. We decided to solicit connection with fellow Black men and center the conversation around literature that addressed these issues.
What motivated me: I am an optimist by nature and I knew the answers were out there. I knew then and know now that the only way the Black community can move higher through these painful issues is to roll up our sleeves, get organized and be vigilant in the fight for justice and prosperity. Reading is just one of the many issues that needs to be tackled.
Our mission: To ignite and empower communities of color by inspiring literacy. Through mentorship and advocacy, we aim to improve educational outcomes and foster a lifelong love of reading with a focus on Black men and boys.
Our top goal: To eradicate illiteracy in the Black community.
Our organization is needed because: Black males play a specific role in the Black community. A focus on this group will not only reduce the literacy gap but will yield positive results in the Black family, community economics and will help solidify generational progress.
What Black Men Read has been able to accomplish: We have supported three Henrico County high schools with a combined 2,500-plus students. We have participated or organized local programs such as reading roundtables, Black History Month celebrations, Ratcliffe Reads Day, Virginia Reads One Book, and much more at schools and public libraries across Henrico, Chesterfield and Richmond. We have donated more than 500 books.
Black Men Read provides: Literary programs aimed at encouraging readers to read more and share their experiences. Our major programs include:
• Books And Bars: Marrying readers’ love of hip-hop and lyrical expression with young adult literature.
• Lit At The Crib: Along with students and their families, we build bookshelves and fill them with books to create home libraries and encourage the habit of discovery for the entire family.
• Black Men Read Book Club: An adult male book club designed as a safe space to read together and share our experience as Black men.
• Expression: A program designed to encourage students to read and then connect that activity to their inner talents. Previous years focused on poetry, but we are looking to expand to art and dance.
Organizations we partner with: Outside of the talented librarians and admins at the schools we support, we also work with organizations such as Communities in Schools; book clubs, including Mocha Girls Read and Book Pearls; local talents such as poet Roscoe Burnems of The Writer’s Den; and bookstores such as Chop Suey Books.
Why reading is important: Reading is a gateway to hope. It embeds endless possibilities in the spirit of the individual and inspires one to pursue their dreams.
Most popular books for teens and young males: Most teens we encounter lean toward two genres: Reality-based fiction and sci-fi/fantasy. The former is identifiable based on their current circumstance. The later helps them escape it. Young males like the same, but with the addition of sports.
Most popular books for men: Adult males focus heavily on non-fiction books centered around knowledge and understanding of politics, economics and race. They thirst to understand, discuss and act.
Ways to get youths interested in reading: First, before ever suggesting a book, understand what the young person’s interests are. There is a book for everything! Second, offer them options, not your selection. Lastly, and most importantly, read with them. The days of “Do as I say, not as I do” are long gone.
Do teens prefer hard-copy or digital books? Most teen boys seem to like physical copies, especially comics, manga or graphic novels.
Advice for parents during pandemic to promote reading: Turn off the TV and put down the phone. Show with your actions that you enjoy and prioritize reading. Also, have mini book clubs with your children and discuss or draw your feelings on the book. Never use reading as some sort of punishment.
My earliest memory of reading is: Reading a book called “Who Runs the City?” I still have this book 30-plus years
Quality I admire most in another person: The ability to reasonably discuss com- plex topics. I love a healthy debate.
Nobody knows I: Am actively working to become a charter financial analyst. I want to be a better resource to my community and improve the use of the stock market for generational wealth.
The one thing I can’t stand: Racism, especially in the most sensitive fields such as educa- tion and health.
A perfect day: Relaxing in my backyard with all my family healthy and enjoying life.
Best late-night snack: A slice of my wife’s homemade apple pie.
Best time of my life: Seeing my son walk across the stage for his high school graduation. I cannot wait to see my younger son do the same next year.
Person who influenced me the most: My mom. She is a strong but gentle woman and finds joy in helping others without need for reward or recognition. She is an amazing person.
The best thing my parents ever taught me was: It’s OK to fail. You have the strength and the family support to get back in the game, so keep pushing.
Book that influenced me the most: “Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison. It was the first time I felt seen in a book.
What I’m reading now: “Men We Reaped: A Memoir” by Jesmyn Ward and “The Black Cabinet: The Untold Story of African Americans and Politics During the Age of Roosevelt” by Jill Watts.
Next goal: To gain the funding and support to expand Black Men Read into the city of Richmond.