In a life that was as inexhaustible as it was purposeful, it’s not easy to label Cliff Frazier. Through his commitment to a sundry of organizations and institutions, he touched a multitude and inspired countless number of aspirants in the world of business, community and humanitarian service, and the arts. Cliff, a veritable renaissance man, made his transition on Feb. 3. He was 87.
Cliff was born Aug. 27, 1934, in Detroit, Michigan to Larney Frazier and Willa Mae Revely; and much later attended Wayne State University. Earlier in his life, as an actor, he appeared in numerous theatrical and television productions. His legendary performance in Samuel Beckett’s “Krapp’s Last Tape” was reviewed by one of USA’s most influential Broadway directors and drama critics, Harold Clurman, with the following comment:
“Frazier’s performance was masterful. He is one of the finest actors in the United States.”
“Although Cliff and my life in art was well connected…,” said Woodie King Jr. of New Federal Theater, recounting their early years together in Detroit in which they performed separately to rave reviews in a trio of plays
“Study in Color” by the late Rev. Malcolm Boyd. Later, after this success they embarked for New York City in 1965. “He was cautious about leaving…he wanted to teach and train young people.” Upon arrival in New York, Cliff landed the lead role in “Lorenzaccio” by Alfred De Musset, King continued. “It was a big hit and I was able to secure a job with the help of Robert Hooks at Mobilization for Youth. Cliff ran the training program for young people of color in acting and theater arts.
“Cliff was always looking ahead,” King added. “He hooked up with Voza Rivers and Ademola Olugebefola to start the Dwyer Culture Center in Harlem.
We kept up a long and productive friendship and he served as chairman of the New Federal Theatre’s board of directors for 15 years, during which the NFT honored Ossie Davis and Sidney Poitier.”
In 1968 after Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, Cliff left his acting career and dedicated himself to the fulfillment of Dr. King’s vision of a “Beloved Community” free of the evils of racism, poverty, and violence. He created programs and activities specifically aimed at fulfilling this vision.
Cliff lived a life devoted to the “Beloved Community.” During the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, alongside Ossie Davis who was the driving force, Cliff helped change the face of the media industry. Through organizations like Community Film Workshop Council (CFWC), Third World Cinema (TWC) and the Institute of New Cinema Artists (INCA), they were responsible for training and obtaining opportunities of employment for more than 2,000
Black, Latinos, Asians and individuals from low income communities throughout the United States and Puerto Rico, in the film, television, recording, advertising and allied media industries.
In 1983 he won an Emmy for “To Be a Man” along with one of the alumni of CFWC, TWC and INCA, who’s an industry trailblazer—Neema Barnette, a producer/director, the first African American woman to direct a television situation comedy and who has directed numerous television shows and feature films. In 1986, he founded International Communications Association (ICA), a Harlem-based nonprofit organization, to continue the successful work of CFWC, TWC and INCA. In 1992, Cliff, as ICA president, obtained the Dwyer Warehouse. In 1998, ICA partnered with Cross Construction. The result is the 10-story, 51-unit Dwyer Condominiums and The Dwyer Cultural Center, and a 7,000 square feet of community space, located on the lower level, which is owned and managed by ICA. Located in Harlem, the Dwyer Condos and the Dwyer Center replaced the former nine-story Dwyer Warehouse but the design recalls the original building’s facade.
In 1995, Cliff was appointed executive director of New York Metropolitan Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolence (NYMLK), which utilizes the Kingian principles, philosophy and methodologies to positively impact the problems of social justice. In collaboration with the Morrisania Revitalization Corporation, NYMLK provides social advocacy work and institutes educational, job training and employment programs that sustain community development and further the cause for peace, progress, and nonviolence. NYMLK partnered with SUNY’S Advanced Technology Training and Information Networking (ATTAIN) in establishing a state-of-the-art high tech computer laboratory to provide digital parity for communities in the South Bronx that have had limited access to computer technology.
For the past 17 years, NYMLK has organized and led its annual Interfaith Celebration for Religious and Racial Harmony. This brings together Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and other faiths. In 2001, NYMLK become a non-government organization associated with the United Nations.
In 2000, he co-founded the Harriet Tubman Charter School in the Bronx, along with NYMLK and the African American Legal Defense and Education Fund. It was the first charter school awarded by the New York State Board of Regents.
Cliff was predeceased by his wife Lee, survived by daughter Aliya (Joey), sons Marcus and Tariq (Jocelyn), and grandchildren Oliver, Isabella, and Roxanne. His funeral will be on Feb. 19, at Abyssinian Baptist Church. Contact the church for the schedule.