The remarkable story of Ryan Fraser

How a high school struggler turned his life around to become college lecturer

BY KIMBERLEY HIBBERT
Staff reporter
hibbertk@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, August 19, 2018

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RYAN Fraser is a father, philosopher, blogger and multi-discipline specialist.

Born in Port Antonio, Portland, but raised between Linstead and Ewarton, St Catherine, as the only son to Randolph and Elaine, Fraser, 33, dreamt of impacting the world in a meaningful way and leaving a legacy for others.

“This was shaped by the passing of my father when I was 11 years old. His death showed me from very early how fragile life was, as well as how fleeting one's impact can be if they do not touch as many lives as possible in a positive way. It also showed me the importance of written works to capture the essence of one's thoughts and ideas.”

But what many do not know is that Fraser, a lecturer and assistant director at the Moneague College, Linstead Campus, was perceived as a failure by some of his peers and teachers while at Calabar High School.

“As a teenager after my father died I was ill-equipped to handle the trauma that I had experienced. As a result, my grades saw a sharp decline. I moved from having the highest average in literature in the school to failing pretty much everything. The strange thing is, the guidance counsellor and the class teachers did not recognise the decline and the cause of it, so I just became a 'bad' student. Students, who I thought did not even know me, told me years later they thought I was an idler and 'time waster',” Fraser told the Jamaica Observer.

For Fraser, in due time these labels became his reality as he eventually developed a drug habit.

“I smoked quite a bit. I smoked weed, cigarettes, seasoned weed, beedie, etcetera. I also experimented a lot. My world had changed irrevocably when my father died — he was the disciplinarian. After he died my mother became a single mother of two teenagers. She woke up and fed us in the morning, sent us to school, worked extra hours so she could provide for us. We were never hungry, never without food, clothing or left wanting, but I needed a male role model; I needed a father,” he said.

Further, as Fraser's high school years went on, his teachers, except one, paid him less and less attention.

“The only teacher who I can credit who impacted me intellectually and emotionally was Mrs Gibbs. She was beautiful, tall and very attractive and best of all, she and I connected. If we got homework she was the only teacher who would mark work beyond what she had given. I remember English and literature were my subjects because I loved to read. By the time the class was on chapter five, I had finished the whole book. If I did not want to do work we would sit and talk while the class worked. I was so far ahead of them and was so eager to find out more, [and] I think that resonated with her. There was no other student in my class like me and as a result she tapped something in me I had no idea existed,” he said.

But, despite the influence Gibbs had on his life, Fraser still got in trouble often. However, after being suspended for a week in grade 11, things gradually started to change.

“It was an interesting experience because my mom was a teacher and she was busy helping other people's children and here I was embarrassing her. This experience hit me hard because I had to own up to the fact that I had failed her. I spent my week home doing literature and English. I wrote this great essay on the unethical suspension practices at the school, and I got back to school and gave my essay and all the work I had done to Mrs Gibbs. She marked it all and we had a talk. As one would expect I did well only on those subjects after sitting the CXC examinations. This was sobering because, again, I had to face myself. Some of my friends migrated, some went on to sixth form, and I was at the same place as before,” he reflected.

Fraser added: “The moment that changed me though was sitting in the interview to repeat fifth form. The lady interviewing me, who never knew me, looked at my grades, the suspension, all of it and said: “Yuh is a wicked bwoy. why yuh wah come waste yuh madda money? Why yuh nuh go get a cutlass and go chop bush?” Her words angered me, and it was only my mother's hand on my knee that calmed me enough to get in. I was about to tell her things a student should never tell a teacher.”

Repeating for Fraser allowed him the space to redeem himself and prove that he, too, could be successful.

“I was now acutely aware of how I was perceived even by those whose job it was to impart knowledge. It was here that I had an epiphany. My mom had gotten me a syllabus for all the subjects. I sat with a syllabus and the textbook and since class was deathly boring I started teaching myself. The more I did, the better my grades. At the end of that year I passed enough subjects to get to sixth form at my mom's school — Charlemont High School,” he said.

While at Charlemont, Fraser's life turned around for the best, resulting in him having one of the top three averages in the school.

“I was successful in all my academic pursuits in sixth form. Courses which had incompetent teachers were also no longer an issue, as I knew how to teach myself. Also noteworthy in sixth form was the formation of my crew. Now everyone knows high school, especially co-ed ones, operate as cliques. I was uninterested in any of the established cliques so I made my own. Everyone who was being made fun of, who was not liked, who looked different, I gathered them in one corner of class and made them lifelong friends. All of us are successful and we keep in contact, even now,” he shared.

Today, Fraser holds a Bachelor of Arts (with honours) in philosophy and a Master of Arts in teaching (social studies and geography) from the University of the West Indies (UWI).

In addition to lecturing at Moneague College, Fraser is the creator and content writer for worldofblackheroes.com and has had the pleasure of serving as a guest lecturer in the School of Education, UWI.

He has also worked with international publishing house Zoolook as a writer/translator, worked as a journalist for islandstage.net and wrote the article 'The search for child-friendly Reggae', which inspired the musical compilation Kindah that is still available on Itunes and in multiple languages. Fraser also did a stint as principal of the La Petite Academy in Linstead.

Moreover, Fraser said his inspiration comes from his students, biological children, and the average Jamaican.

He shared: “A common complaint from co-workers is that students are always in the staff room talking to me. I make myself available to help them with whatever problems they are having. Sometimes they just need a sounding board; sometimes they need advice, coursework help, counselling. I am to my students whatever they need me to be — friend, confidante, counsellor. I also have the uncanny ability to bond with wayward students. I can recognise myself in them and as a result, I am often able to reach them in ways others can't. I can also spot those with untapped potential. A good example of this is my current protégé Odaine Douglas. As a first-year student he was shy, reserved, but full of manners. I thought he needed confidence and responsibility to help him grow as a leader. He won the student guild elections by a landslide even though no other lecturer thought he had the potential or should have even been eligible to run. Odaine went on to run a highly effective student guild which contributed concerts, a projector etc, to the campus, and my vindication came when he got the second-place Council of Community Colleges of Jamaica Award for excellence in student leadership.

“Other notable students and experiences include Elicia who I taught CXC in 2011-2012. She thought she was stupid and “not bright” because her high school teachers had repeated it so often to her she believed it. I took her under my wing and shared my own story of being told the same thing but rising above it. At the start of the semester she was the lowest performer, but the end of the first semester she was the highest achiever. Elicia was also advised to enter the social work field upon completing her CXC's and she went on to achieve an associates degree in the field. She now works in a law firm and plans to finish her degree.

Erica was enrolled in the teaching programme and when she failed a course she was inconsolable. She cried and cried and was ready to leave college because of the embarrassment. I allowed her to cry in the privacy of my office then explained how failure is not as important as picking yourself back up and finishing. When she retook the course and passed we cried together as she had gotten an “A” this time. When she graduated we cried together again as she still passed with honours. I see things in my students they don't even realise about themselves and as a teacher it is my job to draw it out of them, to have their greatness manifest in reality,” he shared.

Fraser's has adopted the philosophy in life, “We are what we repeatedly do. Greatness then, is not an act, but a habit”. His daily mantra reads, “I am smart, I am beautiful, I am connected to mother earth, I am accepting of all that I am, I am special; today will be a good day. I am thankful for life, for love, for family.”

He also used the opportunity to encourage parents to not give up on their children and encourage children who have been told “you can't”, “you're not”, “you can never” to practice saying to yourselves everyday in front of a mirror “I can”, “I am”, “I will overcome”.

He said: “You must never succumb to the self-fulfilling prophecy of believing all the negative things that others think about you. Whatever you know you're weak at, practice like crazy. Shoot for the stars! believe in yourself and silence the haters with your actions, not with your words!”

 

 

 

 

 

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