By Janie Fried
It began with a tweet – one of thousands: “Who is Alex Fraser?”
By then the letter Alexander C. Fraser wrote and posted on his Facebook page was viral.
First, his letter:
Dear George Zimmerman,
For the rest of your life you are now going to feel what it’s like to be a black man in America.
You will feel people stare at you. Judging you for what you think are unfair reasons. You will lose out on getting jobs for something you feel is outside of your control. You will believe yourself to be an upstanding citizen and wonder why people choose to not see that.
People will cross the street when they see you coming. They will call you hurtful names. It will drive you so insane some days that you'll want to scream at the top of your lungs. But you will have to wake up the next day, put on firm look and push through life.
I bet you never thought that by shooting a black male you'd end up inheriting all of his struggles.
Enjoy your “freedom.”
A black male who could've been Trayvon Martin
Some pundits have called the letter one of the wisest reactions to the emotional aftermath of the verdict, in which outcries for justice sent protestors to the streets last Sunday across the United States. Where was Alex Fraser? The 26-year-old was stocking cereal at his day job.
So who is this peaceful soul? I tweeted him. He responded, and he agreed to talk about his life.
Fraser is a recent graduate of Temple University in Philadelphia. His degree is in theatre. He applied to Yale for graduate school, was turned down. He made the short-list at NYU, but not the final cut. He pushed through.
Last summer he moved from Philly to Los Angeles with the hope, he said, of a “survival job” as a hotel bellman while he pursued a career as an actor. He had worked his way through college as a bellman and thought landing a similar job in LA was a sure thing. It wasn’t. Upon arrival, the job fell through. He pushed through.
“I ended up having to run all over LA looking for any job,” he said. The friend’s couch he intended to crash on for a couple of weeks turned into his home for a couple of months. He pushed through. His funds were almost depleted when he finally got a job assembling bicycles at Target.
He enrolled in acting classes, signed up with an agent but couldn’t go to auditions because he had a “survival” job. He needed that job. Still, he pushed through. He kept up his acting as much as he could and he began to write. He got a full-time job as a supervisor at a drug store. He found roommates, moved into an apartment.
He was at his apartment when the Zimmerman verdict became news to the world. “I was shocked,” he said. He wanted to express emotions stirring within him.
“I didn’t want to write something that would cause division and more anger,” he said. “That wouldn’t help anything. Didn’t seem productive.” He sat in his bedroom and thought. “After a while, I thought about what was going to happen next. George’s life would be changed.”
And so would Alex’s life after his friends began to share the message that flowed out of him the night of July 13 on his Facebook post – “An Open Letter to George Zimmerman.”
Unlike the tragedy that cut short Trayvon’s life, Alex is here with us, pushing ahead. At last count, his letter had 179,398 “likes” and 79,153 “shares” on Facebook. The day Alex’s message went viral, found Alex at his day job.
“My phone kept buzzing,” he said. “My friends were calling and I was telling them, ‘I’m stocking cereal right now. I can’t even talk about what’s going on’.”
One friend in particular, Corey Stephens, artistic director of Philadelphia’s RebelYard Theatre Collective, began to Twitter. Tweets sent the letter into the stratosphere.
The sentiments Alex wisely expressed didn’t spring suddenly from his soul. He grew up in a family that shared with others the philosophy to not judge until you have walked in another person’s shoes.
His father, Charles Fraser, is from Trinidad. His mother, Jennie, was born in Barbados. Together they run Missionary Outreach Fellowship, based in the United States.
“I wish they had a website,” Alex said. They are in the United Kingdom this summer doing missionary work and, as of this writing, Alex’s parents had not seen the letter commentators on CNN were discussing by Monday afternoon. Alex’s only sibling, Gloria, has, but not Mom and Dad.
As a young married couple, the Frasers moved to Portland, Maine, where Alex was born. His mom taught Spanish at private schools.
“I’ve told my Dad that his tenacity and his determination to do what is his calling helped me learn to push through,” Alex said. “Mom has always pushed me in literature and grammar.”
From Maine, the Frasers eventually settled in southeastern Pennsylvania. Charles Fraser pastored as part of the Salvation Army ministry. “We often lived in church housing,” Alex said. “We bounced around to different church places.”
“I have loving parents,” he said. “This acting thing was a little tough for them, but over time, they saw how into it I was. They supported me.”
I found it an interesting take on instant electronic celebrity syndrome that, although the words Alex tapped out on his laptop went viral, the life of the author appeared overlooked. Now he’s not.
Janie Fried is an old-school newspaper reporter based in Los Angeles. She attended Northwestern University and is the author of “Self-loathing in the twenty-first century.” She also performs original prose and poetry at open mic venues.
Copyright © 2013 Janie Fried. Republished with permission