Beyond Her Hashtag: #mpfrias Unites Women of Color On and Offline

We are past the days where our online lives aren’t deeply intertwined with our offline ones. Meet M.P Frias, writer, poet and one of the people using that development to strengthen people around her.

It is no surprise to find that, today, social media is being used more and more as a source of release when it comes to mental health, personal growth, and self-expression. As the desire to find new forms and ways to express oneself increases, the outlets follow suit. However, as the evolution of these platforms takes place, it raises the question of whether young people are able to effectively express themselves in such contexts, and showcase an honest, open, and accurate depiction of the struggles and difficulties that permeate their everyday lives. Writer MP Frias thinks so, Instagram marking one of the first spaces she turned to share her story. 

The first three words MP Frias uses to describe herself start as professions: poet, writer, and aspiring professor. But before she has the chance to explain why she chose those three, her descriptors quickly change from professions into adjectives: determined, detail-oriented, and a people person—three words she considers the reasons why she was has become a poet, a writer, and hopefully in the future, a future educator of creative writing.

Like many young people, MP Frias faced numerous hardships throughout her late teens, not just the breakup that would inspire her to write her debut book, The Art of Letting Go: Learning to Love Myself Through Poems of Betrayal, Healing, and Forgiveness. At the very top of her list was not being able to pursue higher education, the very thing she wanted (and needed) most to perfect her craft. 

In debt from her first try at university and thus unable to apply to public colleges throughout the metropolitan New York area to start anew, these struggles would eventually open up a new set of doors for Frias. “It all stemmed from [my] heartbreak, from being a really, really bad area, and when everything around me was falling apart. I couldn’t go to school, I saw my friends graduating. I was writing and reading, just trying to do something to get myself in the better,” she says. 

Stepping onto the platform 

Instead, with some determination, careful contemplation, and purpose, she invested in other skills, tweaked her goals, and took to social media to express herself and share the sentiments and feelings she was not able to express in a typical classroom environment. 

“It started with me posting all of my work on Instagram, that’s where I gained my following. I don’t know what I did. I don’t know how I got followers. I don’t know why people liked my stuff. I always have just tried to post about things that I knew I’ve needed at some point and was really honest. That’s what attracted most people to me, just how honest I am. I told people about the struggles I was going through. I feel like people don’t do this enough, especially over Instagram,” she says. 

What Frias soon recognized was that online platforms that were gaining popularity in the early 2010s, could be used as a source of catharsis—a digital outlet for understanding mental health and enabling personal self-growth, offering a space that could bring together and uplift women, particularly women of color, as Frias identifies. With her hashtag #mpfrias, Frias’ poems started to attract more followers and interest. “People wanted to hear more from me, even outside the digital space,” she says, “and I kept thinking, ‘I shouldn’t take my online presence for granted.’” 

A short while after she released her book. The motivation behind writing it stemmed from wanting to find a way to be able to share her feelings as more than just snippets online to her burgeoning online community. It was also during this time that universities around the East Coast started taking note of her work, inviting Frias to attend lectures, club meetings and sorority events on their campuses as a keynote speaker, advocating for young people in marginalized communities. 

“When I was going on tour for my book, that’s when I actually felt and saw a college experience and I said to myself, ‘This is frickin’ awesome.’ I went to these schools and I’ve always been especially proud of the girls attending them. They are legit 18 years old setting up events for a club and they don’t know how huge this is. It’s really tough. The smallest things need to be thought of and they’re doing it,” she recalls. 

Twenty schools and a book tour later, these were the university experiences that Frias had heard so much about, moments she had been deprived of, not out of her own will, she laments, but because of the factors in place that did not allow her to move her education forward in the way she had expected. However, Frias quickly saw, just as she learned to use the digital space to promote personal expression and uplift young women with her honesty and openness, she could use a physical space as well. 

Speaking to university students sparked another idea for Frias. She thought: ‘why not make an event of my own?’

From poet to producer (to professor)

“Scarlet is my baby, not my book.”

The annual Scarlet Event celebrates female expression, whatever that may entail for its attendees, speakers and performers, of women from inner cities. Originally acting as an art gallery, over time Scarlet became more of an interactive museum, with a core vision, as stated by Frias, of ‘women supporting women.’ 

“I knew a lot of talented people who didn’t have the privilege that I had, which was to have that platform that I made for myself. I know way too many people that need to know each other. I know teachers, people who want to be teachers, producers, aspiring musicians, people that needed to connect. And I was thinking, the only place where people go, hang out to drink and chat is at bars. I wanted to create a cool event that was kind of like a social networking in-person thing, where people in New York meet up and showcase their talent,” she says.

Five events later, Scarlet has continued to provide an open space and controversial, though crucial, discussion about meaningful themes and difficulties within female black and brown communities. The growth, Frias says, has been incredible. Every year a new set of panelists and speakers who have “made it” in some way are showcasing an “I did this, here’s how you can do it, too” mentality for the crowd of women before them.  

“Women of color are in general really attracted and attached to each other.  So whenever I see someone who is kind of doing what I am doing, I get excited. ‘You write? Send me your stuff and let’s link up.’ I see this all the time on my Instagram, women supporting each other left and right,” Frias says. 

All of which goes to show how women would rather elevate each other than feel the need to compete. At Scarlet, this was exactly what MP Frias wanted to share in real-time. From a community of women and supporters that was cultivated digitally, now transformed into a visual, physical showcase of strong, intelligent, and creative women: her production succeeded. 

“I feel like it’s kind of my responsibility to show people how to question everything or help them understand that there are different ways to do things,” Frias says. That you can look things up and look up to different people, especially if a community is overlooked and there isn’t someone looking out for you”. 

“I need to be that voice for the sake of my community,” Frias says, which is why she acts as a curator, producer, and influencer for others through her presence and events, even without that “magic paper” (an official degree) telling her she’s qualified to do so. 

Today, MP Frias is discontinuing being called a poet and focusing more on creative writing through short stories. Scarlet is also in the works for a Summer 2021 event. As for her degree, she’s come a long way and has since completed two, having finally been able to attend a four-year university in 2018. And she’s ready to keep them coming, an MFA in the pipeline, until she has all the papers to make her mark, become an educator and continue her revolution.