Maxwell Frost: Stories of struggle are motivation for advocate’s dream of bringing hope to community

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Through the Eyes of Generation Z: Discover the goals, passions and motivations of Generation Z (born between 1997-2012) through a series of Black History Month stories highlighting Black influencers in Central Florida. Every Sunday in February, you will meet an individual who is making a difference in our community. Today, get to know what drives Maxwell Frost, the first member of Generation Z to be elected to the U.S. Congress.

As a blanket of gray clouds hovered above the chilly downtown Orlando streets, hundreds prepared to walk, wave and dance in the Martin Luther King Jr. parade in front of the people lining the parade route. All gathered to pay homage to MLK’s work, a grouping of the diverse individuals living in Central Florida.

He is 5’9”, with rounded high cheeks and a dark brown curly Afro. Yet he leads with his bright, youthful smile as he lopes diagonally across Orange Avenue, delivering candy to the children holding out their bags, all frantic to get just one more piece. His reassuring tone quiets their frenetic gestures, and when their eyes connect and he drops a single sweet into each bag, he briefly shares more than a piece of candy with them.

At 27, Congressman Maxwell Alejandro Frost is delivering hope to those on Orange Avenue, in his community, in his district and in the halls of the U.S. Capitol building in Washington D.C.

His passion for service is a product of his family’s approach to life. He was adopted at birth by Maritza Argibay-Frost and Patrick Frost, who met his biological mother, a single Lebanese and Puerto Rican mother of six other children, through a mutual friend as she was struggling financially.

“My dad would go to my biological mother’s home and do the headphones on the stomach thing and play music,” Frost said about Patrick Frost, a white steel pan musician from Kansas. “I think he was hoping and praying I’d be a musical person, and I am one.”

He grew up with Frost and Argibay, who migrated from Cuba in the 1960s, along with her mother and sister. Argibay recently retired after 37 years as a special education teacher. The younger Frost remembers spending countless hours in her classrooms as she finished her Advances in Teacher Education paperwork, checking in with parents and all the other things teachers do not get paid for. “My mom is the kindest person I know and has the sweetest heart,” Frost said. “She has a heart of service.”

Zenaida Argibay, his grandmother, called him “ChiChi” and Frost called her “Yeya” since, as a toddler, he could not pronounce her full name. She moved from Hialeah to Orlando for the first two years of his life and took care of him. She taught him Spanish, which was Frost’s first language, and the two were close throughout her life.

Decades before, she received a call giving her 24-hour notice that she had been selected to immigrate to the United States with her two daughters. Without any money, the three packed one suitcase for all and gave final embraces to the family members they would never see in person again. It was a very emotional moment.

Life was tough in South Florida for his grandmother. She worked several jobs on the factory floors and retired on a fixed income. “She’s not part of the model immigrant story we made up,” said Frost, but “she always found joy in what her daughters and grandkids were doing.”

“My dad really taught me how to be vulnerable and to be OK with it,” said Frost. One day, they watched an HBO special, “The Music in Me,” about kids playing instruments. “There was this kid playing “The Swan” on the cello, which is … a beautiful song, and I remember that being the first time I ever cried to music. … I remember crying in front of my dad and kinda feeling embarrassed. He looks at me, and he said, ‘It’s OK.’ And I remember sitting down listening to music and just watching my dad just cry.”

In the second grade, he got me a drum set for Christmas, and that’s when I started playing drums,” Frost said. In addition to the drum set, his father gave him private lessons with Paul Parker, a friend and an adjunct percussion instructor for the Osceola School of Performing Arts.

The next few years, he learned, practiced and performed for the very people he would audition for in the fifth grade at OSPA. He auditioned, they checked his grades and he was one of two students from his school to be accepted.

“It was an honor,” Frost said. He also called it “bittersweet” since he would have to leave his classmates to attend the new school.

OSPA is where Frost discovered how to learn and thrive in a competitive environment, how to audition and challenge his peers to beat them out, how to take their seats and become more empathetic and how to tap into his own creativity.

It also was a place where he could focus his energy.

“When I was a kid, I got in trouble a lot. A lot,” Frost said. “I would be talking in class, and I would be making people laugh. I would be making stupid jokes.”

After graduating from OSPA, Frost attended Valencia Community College, where his energy and commitment to serving others was inspired after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. He later worked on Bernie Sanders’ and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaigns and as an organizer with the ACLU. After the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, he joined March For Our Lives along with other gun violence survivors, and at 22, he served as its national organizing director.

Frost felt the need to serve again during the George Floyd killing protest rallies on the streets of Orlando. He wanted to save lives and brought his organizing acumen to the streets to help guide the mostly peaceful yet sometimes volatile demonstrations.

Frost had been approached more than once to run for public office during his years of service. He was thinking about his future and his past. His parents early on told him he was adopted and opened the door to meet and correspond with his birth mother.

One day, they showed him her Facebook page, and it was the first time he saw his biological mother. He later had his first conversation with her on the phone, and she shared the story of why she gave him up for adoption.

The challenge in her life to find a job with a living wage, affordable healthcare, safe housing and gun violence reminded him of his Yeya’s immigrant struggles, the students that have died in their classrooms and the life stories shared by the men and women he marched with during the George Floyd protests.

At that point, his decision to run for office was made. He tossed his hat in the ring, raised enough money and organized a campaign that eventually won Florida’s District 10 while also driving for Uber to pay his rent.

“This job is the job of an advocate. I’m an advocate. I’m not a chief executive officer. I’m not the mayor. I’m not a governor. I’m an advocate,” said Frost.

Today, the homegrown, vulnerable, talented, passionate musician, organizer and advocate works to bring hope back to Central Florida.

One drumbeat at a time.