Newark man uses education to turn his life around and give parents a voice

By Barry Carter | The Star-Ledger
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on February 21, 2017

Altorice Frazier is helping to run Fun Day at Thrive Academy in Newark.
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He looked familiar last week as we walked past each other in front of the YMCA on Broad Street in Newark.

Ten minutes later, I'm in my car and the guy I didn't quite recognize is tapping the window on the passenger side. Thinking he wanted directions, I rolled it down and he told me that I had written a story about him eight years ago.

"What's the name?

"Altorice Frazier," he said.

It clicked.

Frazier is a Newark resident, and a successful example of the many men who return home from jail and make it.

"I haven't looked back,'' he said.

Education saved his life while locked up, and it continues to fuel his life now.

Frazier, 40, has become a parent leader in the world of charter schools, telling mothers, fathers, grandparents and guardians that they have a voice in their children's education.

"He lets me know there is hope,'' said Tomeko Hoskins, an active parent at New Horizon Charter School. "He's awesome in big letters.''

Frazier is the co-chair of the parent organization at Kipp Thrive Academy, but he's an activist citywide in getting parents involved and keeping them informed about education reform and legislation.

It's a role he could not have predicted in 1999 when he was 22 years old. Frazier had been sentenced to 13 years for drug trafficking, but he quickly saw the value of education at the Garden State Youth Correctional Facility in Yardville. He could take a job that paid $3.75 a day for kitchen duty or the teacher's aide position that paid $4.75 a day once he received his General Equivalency Diploma.

"If I wanted more money I had to have better jobs,'' Frazier said.

That's all it took - one extra dollar - for the light bulb in his head to never flicker again. Frazier only served five years, the earliest he was eligible for parole. In that time, he completed college level courses in accounting, math and small business training. At the halfway house, Frazier paid attention to self-improvement courses, anger management and cognitive thinking.

"I shifted my paradigm,'' he said.

He was determined to never go back to jail after his release  on Jan. 7, 2004.

Frazier worked his tail off finding employment. He got a job at Pathmark, then landed a gopher-type gig at an accounting firm in 2005. From there, H&R Block gave him a shot and he was doing well preparing taxes. But he left that promising career to work as a prison re-entry coordinator at a place that once helped him, the Community Education Center, a rehabilitative service in Newark for ex-offenders. 

"I wanted to give back,'' Frazier said.

He told that story during a press conference in 2008, where I first met him. The city was receiving a grant from the state to provide prisoner re-entry services and Frazier was proof that someone could change.

"Whatever support that re-entry services have provided to him, he's more than repaid that in terms of the role model and leader that he is,'' said Shavar Jeffries, a Newark resident and civil rights attorney, who was there that day.

Frazier made the best of his opportunity, even though parent advocacy started as a fluke. He ran for president of the parent organization in 2005 at North Star Academy Charter School as a way to bond with his fifth grade step daughter when he was married.

"I didn't think I was going to win,'' said Frazier, who also has another daughter from previous relationship.

He soon bought into the world of school choice, then found himself as the parent representative on the board that governs North Star charter schools for five years.

His school activism continued to flourish when his twin boys - now 8 years-old -  were students in the Newark Preschool Council program.

"I didn't know nothing about preschool,'' he said. "I just thought you dropped your child off.''

Head Start, however, is federally funded and requires parent involvement.

Frazier became president of the parent group at one of the preschool sites in 2011 and he was the parent voice at board of director meetings. When his boys moved onto kindergarten, Frazier returned to the preschool scene in 2013, serving as the chairman of the policy council when he had another child in the program, his daughter who is now 4.

Karen Highsmith, a former director of the preschool council remains impressed with how Frazier made sure parents understood Head Start regulations and performance standards.

"He was so sincere about engaging parents and having them recognize that they have a voice,'' Highsmith said.

Wherever he goes, parents say Frazier encourages adult he meets to be active. At Thrive Academy last fall, Keona Campbell said fathers began to participate in the parent organization after Frazier held a breakfast event exclusively for them and their children.

"They showed up and they showed out,'' Campbell said.

Parent engagement is Frazier's life and that means he also talks to state legislators and congressional leaders. He's employed as a parent coordinator with the Parent Coalition For Excellence in Education, a Newark-based organization that wants all public school parents to have a voice in the education debate.

Not bad considering how life started for him. From age 2 to 7, he shuttled between foster homes and living with his mother, who was in an abusive relationship. He was adopted at age 9 by his foster mother, who has overcome addiction, but who struggled with the disease back then. With no direction, Frazier was selling cocaine at 16.

"He's definitely a comeback story,'' said Dana Murray, a Newark resident who has known him since he was teenager.

"He has taken his own life experiences and he's using it as a motivation to be a strong father.''

A stronger husband, too, the second time around. Frazier was married last year to his wife, Lakisha Frazier.

But juveniles in the court system in Jersey City say he's a big brother. After work, Frazier picks them up in a van and brings them to the Newark YMCA, which has a mentoring program that he's part of.  The guidance he didn't get as a youth has an impact on them.

"He came from nothing and look where he's at now,'' said a 14-year-old eighth grader who wants to be an engineer. "He gives me hope.''

Keep listening to Frazier, young man. Anything is possible.

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