Class of 2016: Joe Frazier inspired by dreams of a united community
Joe Frazier said that, while he loves studying sociology, he gets frustrated with the apathy that’s often unavoidable in college courses. Frazier received degrees in sociology and philosophy in 2013, and he will graduate this spring with master’s degrees in both subjects.
After graduating in 2013, Frazier of Chesapeake, Virginia, took a year off to work at an independent school in Christiansburg, where he worked with at-risk youth. There, he put his academics into action.
“It starts to feel kind of pointless to talk about these problems all day long but not look at ways to stop them,” said Frazier. The issue that weighed on him the most was police brutality against black youth.
So he took matters into his own hands. Following Michael Brown’s high-profile death in 2014, Frazier and some friends spontaneously traveled to Ferguson, Missouri, to meet with activists on the front lines. They came back to Blacksburg inspired to be part of creating an inclusive climate at Virginia Tech. Frazier said he had a specific plan in mind.
He originally pitched the Student Police Unity League — affectionately known as SPUL — to the Blacksburg and Virginia Tech Police Departments. Frazier showed up at each shift—7 a.m. and 7 p.m.—for nearly a week to convince the departments to play volleyball on integrated teams consisting of police officers and black Virginia Tech students. No convincing was needed. Twenty officers were on board without a second of hesitation.
Students, though, proved to be harder to recruit. Frazier finally spoke up at an NAACP meeting on campus.
“If we want to start doing something, this is the place to start,” Frazier said to the group of students. “I understand the frustration, but, at the end of the day, that’s not helping the problem. By taking a hands-off approach, you’re not doing anything.”
He was summarizing the words of Paulo Freire, a Brazilian educator who said, “Washing one’s hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral.”
This quote drives Frazier’s passion for activism. And, apparently, it drove others to do the same. Eighteen students signed up following that meeting. Four teams were created, and the season went better than expected. Everyone who participated came out of the season with a renewed mindset regarding culture. For some of the police officers, they came out of the season a bit more sore.
Frazier and another student have begun to speak about race and activism at local high schools. Frazier is in the process of forming a non-profit to keep SPUL funded and to expand its reach to local schools and to Roanoke.
On March 22, the two students hosted the first Allyship and Activism Leadership Conference at Virginia Tech, which focused on not only race issues, but also issues regarding the LGBTQ community. Approximately 140 high school students attended. Mark Miear, the superintendent of Montgomery County Pubic Schools, also attended.
Frazier serves as the political action chair for the NAACP. He has facilitated, spoken at, and organized vigils, programs, and initiatives since he traveled to Ferguson less than two years ago. In addition to social justice, Frazier is passionate about weight lifting. In 2015, he placed second overall in his division at the state championships.
Frazier mentioned that the highlight of his college experience was meeting his girlfriend, Karen, while working at Owens Hall. After that, though, he said, “SPUL was the biggest thing for me. It was a large project that I launched by myself. Seeing it all come to fruition let me know all that I was capable of doing without help. It really boosted my confidence.”
Frazier was selected as a recipient of the Division of Student Affairs’ Aspire! Award in March, recognizing his civility, his desire to see our campus and our nation become united once again, and his unwillingness to abandon his compassion while doing so.
Frazier is still undecided as to what he plans to do following graduation, but he has applied to join the Virginia Tech Police Department following graduation and dreams of attending law school one day.
Written by Holly Paulette.