Founder of Black Girl Rising Continues to Build Community, Advocate for Black Girls, Women

Community leader fran frazier is a fearless advocate for Black girls and women.

Donna Marbury
fran frazier by the Aminah Robinson mural at the Main Library of the Columbus Metropolitan Library

Just shy of 18, fran frazier joined VISTA (now AmeriCorps VISTA) without telling her parents, who expected the Philadelphia native to attend University of Pennsylvania. Frazier’s defiance would lead to a life-changing experience.

Sent to Portsmouth, Virginia, frazier was tasked with teaching Black peanut farmers to read and write. But in 1968, a Black woman, even one helping the community, was not welcomed.

“We were at a grocery store, and there were members of the Ku Klux Klan assembled in their hoods in the parking lot to scare us. We were scared, and that night we heard they were going to bomb our house,” says frazier, who styles her name lowercase as a sign of humility. “We immediately put on scarves, dressed differently, and got on the ferry from Portsmouth and stayed with VISTAs in Norfolk. I never told my parents any of this, ever.”

That incident was one of many where frazier, now 74, had to sharpen her bravery in the face of fear.

Frazier is the founder of Black Girl Rising, Inc. and the principal investigator of a research study titled “Placing Black Girls at Promise: Rise Sister Rise.” With a team of researchers from the Ohio Department of Mental Health, she surveyed 411 Black girls in four Ohio cities in 2011 on issues of trauma and resiliency. That research has informed mental health programs and policies statewide.

“We hear all the time that Black girls can’t get a break,” says frazier, who holds monthly talks with high school-aged Black girls across Columbus as a part of the Black Girl Rising Think Tank. “Has it changed? No, but what we are doing is giving our girls permission to be fabulous, regardless.”

In May, frazier received the City Leaders Academy Torch Award from the Columbus Recreation and Parks Department in recognition of her work with middle and high school students.

Frazier’s humility and care is apparent in her work. In 1979 she created an organization to gather women to discuss family issues, spirituality and self-care.

“Women would tell their families that they were going grocery shopping,” says frazier, adding that the gathering of women to discuss their own health and autonomy was often seen as a threat in the community. For 27 years, she has also helped organize a citywide Women’s Day of Prayer, held this year on Aug. 15, where hundreds of women gather for fellowship.

Among her many accolades, frazier’s decades of work with Black women and girls was documented by The HistoryMakers, a national storytelling platform capturing African American history for the Library of Congress. She was also appointed co-chair of the Columbus Commission on Black Girls in 2018 by former Columbus City Council Member Priscilla Tyson.

“It wasn’t just another assignment or committee appointment; it was about getting people who I knew cared for and loved our girls,” says Tyson of appointing frazier. “Her research has allowed the city and the community to prioritize doing everything possible for [the] success of Black girls. … She’s not doing the work for self-gratification; she’s doing the work to enhance people’s lives.” 

This story is from the June 2022 issue of Columbus Monthly.