2021-10-13 23:28:55 UTC
Mansfield Frazier, community activist, writer and winery owner, dies at 78
By Cameron Fields, cleveland.com
CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Mansfield Frazier, a community activist intent on improving Cleveland and owner of Chateau Hough winery, died at his home surrounded by family Saturday.
He was 78 and died of liver cancer, said friend Damian Calvert.
Frazier was a pillar of Cleveland, and his impact was felt in multiple pockets. As owner of Chateau Hough, he provided a space for formerly incarcerated people to work, uplifting them and others to recognize their potential. Frazier also founded nonprofit organization Neighborhood Solutions in 2004, which is focused on using educational and entrepreneurial strategies to help formerly incarcerated people re-enter society, as well as reaching out to at-risk youth.
One aspect of Frazier that stood out to Chardonnay Graham, owner of marketing and public relations firm Touch Cleveland, was his ability to stand pat in his identity and beliefs.
“He definitely encouraged me to not only just figure out where I stand, but to always be firm in that and to not be moved by anybody or anything that goes against what I believe and what I stand for,” Graham said.
As Frazier navigated life, he left an indelible mark on the people he cared about. He wanted to help change lives as best he could.
“He was the epitome of mentoring young people,” said Cleveland City Councilman Blaine Griffin, a close friend of Frazier. “Mansfield really, really believed in mentoring young people, but he was tough. You couldn’t come at him soft. You had to deal with him real because he dealt with you real, and that’s what we really appreciated about each other.”
Frazier’s relationships with people like Calvert and Don Laster exemplify his giving nature. Calvert, 47, works for Cleveland’s community relations department, and Frazier helped Calvert earn the job five years ago. When the city was looking for someone to hire, Frazier told Griffin about Calvert. Calvert said Griffin knew him a bit, so that helped as well.
Calvert first met Frazier when he was incarcerated at the Grafton Correctional Institution. He was the president of the correctional institution’s NAACP, and he was running a re-entry program. Frazier, who was formerly incarcerated, wrote a magazine called “Reentry Advocate” and Calvert wanted Frazier to come in and celebrate his program’s first graduating class.
Their relationship evolved from one of mentorship to Frazier being a father-like figure. When Calvert was released from prison in 2011, he became a student at Cleveland State University. That’s when Frazier had to really make sure Calvert stayed on the right path.
“When I was in college at Cleveland State, I fell into the trap for a minute of just getting very distracted by the women,” Calvert said. “But he pulled me to the side. He came and got me. I got in his car, and he said ‘Hey, cat, I’ve been keeping eyes on you man and you slipping.’ He said, ‘I don’t invest in suckas. Right now you acting like a damn sucka.’”
Laster, 62, met Frazier about 25 years ago when he was doing a project with CitiRama, a program that encouraged developers to build homes in the city.
Frazier asked Laster if he had built in the Hough neighborhood, and Laster hadn’t. Frazier pointed Laster to some land, and Laster eventually built a home in Hough.
“I was kind of younger then, but he just gave me the encouragement,” Laster said. “If you could build for somebody else, you could build for yourself. So I started my own company, and that’s how we started. I built his winery.”
Frazier’s path was filled with redemption and service. Born in Cleveland on East 31st Street and Scoville Avenue, he graduated from East Tech High School.
Frazier worked at Cleveland Electric Illuminating Co. as a pipe welder on the downtown steam system. But he was passed over for a promotion, as higher-ups told him his co-workers weren’t ready for a Black boss, Frazier told The Plain Dealer in a 2010 profile.
Frazier left the job and his marriage. He went down a path of crime, counterfeiting credit cards across the nation. He served a total of six years in prison, but during a 27-month sentence in Ashland, Ky., he used his time to better himself.
Frazier taught himself how to write, authoring the book “From Behind the Wall,” a collection of essays in which Frazier shares his thoughts and perspectives on racism and the criminal justice system.
Following his release from prison, Frazier became a journalist, writing for publications such as the Call & Post, Downtown Tab, City News and Cool Cleveland.
“He did live a life on the other side of the wall, but he turned his life around,” said Ellen Connally, a close friend and a retired judge of the Cleveland Municipal Court. “In prison, he read, he educated himself, and he is a classic (example) of re-entry. So people say, ‘Well you know, I was formerly incarcerated. I’m on a dead end track.’ Well forget that. Because Mansfield proved that’s not correct. That you can turn your life around.”
Frazier’s determined nature enveloped his spirit. Some people thought a winery in Cleveland wouldn’t work, but he did it anyway, hiring a number of formerly incarcerated people to work there. Global Cleveland president Joe Cimperman, who served on Cleveland City Council for 19 years, described Frazier as “fearless.”
“It’s hard to imagine a Cleveland without Mansfield Frazier,” said Thomas Mulready, a close friend and founder of the Cool Cleveland publication. “He’s had that much of an impact on this town.”
Survivors include his wife, Brenda, and daughter, Ashley Smith. Services are pending.