Rest In Power to Feliks Garcia: My Friend and Hero

Feliks Garcia was the type of friend who teaches you the difference between having things in common, and having important things in common. He was always himself, and I never saw him try to be anybody other than himself to impress anyone. He loved what he loved, believed in what he believed in, and won us all over by being true to himself and by caring deeply about others.

Even as a teenager Feliks Garcia cared very little about what was popular. He cared enough to know about it, to be able to discuss it with friends, but not enough to change his own interests or even pretend to like something for the benefit of a relationship or friendship. When we were 18 years old, among our friends, seemingly everyone’s favorite moment of the day while hanging out after school, was watching MTV’s TRL to see it climax with Sisqo’s “The Thong Song,” Feliks cared so little about this phenomenon — aside from having a blast hanging out with everyone there — that he literally thought Sisqo’s given name was Drew (no, not Dru). As he said out loud “who’s this Sisqo guy? Isn’t that Drew Hill.” When I explained to him that Dru Hill was Sisqo’s group, he was perplexed by the idea and it took several minutes to clarify.

In the summer of 1999, Feliks was more interested in revisiting Pantera riffs than trying to memorize the verses from Juvenile’s 400 Degreez along with me. I never knew Karaoke Feliks, but apparently later in life he would eventually find purpose for memorizing rap verses, like TI’s cameo in Justin Timberlake’s “My Love.” It is fitting that Feliks’ interest in learning rap lyrics, would be for the collective joy of karaoke, as he always enjoyed having a great time with friends. As someone who often has difficulty separating my work from my personal life and finding time to have fun with friends, I always appreciated Feliks’ ability to always find time to spend with his friends.

Feliks was a lover of animals and leaves behind his two cats, Humphrey and Pickle — who are looking for a permanent home — and the many animals he helped care for at the Austin Animal Shelter. As I write this, I am inspired by the 111 people who have donated to his gofundme campaign, which has raised $4,375 for his favorite charity.

Feliks had an uncanny ability to make the impossible possible, by force of will, commitment, and hard work. For someone who had relatively few followers — something he never really cared about — Feliks was amazing at tapping into the power of Twitter. Like in the offline world, this was because of his ability to build authentic relationships with people, even people he’d never met in person. As long as I live, I will probably never have another friend who will be eulogized by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, but Feliks made that possible through his commitment to bringing about the zany online relationship. It worked, because even though the relationship was mostly for laughs, Feliks engaged it lovingly and in good faith, and The Rock eventually, after much persistence, returned in-kind.

This doesn’t mean that things came easy to Feliks, like many today he always struggled to make a good living in a society without a lot of opportunities for class advancement. At times his dedication to social justice also made him a challenging reporter for his editors with their focus on clicks and the bottom line in today’s journalism industry. When we spoke about this, he was always dedicated to proving them wrong, by showing just how successful good articles about important topics could be for their outlets. On several instances, he was successful doing this, although he always stayed dedicated to the assignments they gave him.

He worked extremely hard, a lesson he undoubtedly learned from his mother, who worked multiple jobs to support their family in Texas. Despite her hard work, Feliks spoke of growing up in poverty and struggling to overcome the barriers to success in a field without a lot of connections to people in powerful positions. In spite of those barriers, Feliks was amazingly talented, and he cultivated those talents to find his true calling as a writer, excelling as a newspaper reporter, humorist, essayist and podcaster.

Feliks was also a lover of people and had a deep commitment to social justice. As we grew into our careers and causes over time, this is where he and I found the most common ground and connected the most deeply. Feliks personally experienced police brutality at a young age, as he wrote in his piece, “What Getting Put In A Headlock As An 11 Year Old, Taught Me About Police Violence.” At the end of 2015, things went very wrong at an organization called Justice Together, which was ostensibly working to end police brutality in America. There were thousands of us, who volunteered at this organization which was run by a reputed New York Daily News reporter and social media darling. I won’t get into details here, but 30 of us who were directors at the organization wrote an open letter and reached out to the board to try and seek some form of redress, or at least conversation, for what we saw as abusive behavior, terrible leadership, and potentially fraud.

Due to position and platform of the organization’s leader, we could not find a reporter who was willing to write the story, including Justice Together board member Glenn Greenwald. While some other reporters, published some clickbait version of a story related to the debacle, Feliks was the only reporter who actually interviewed the directors at Justice Together and told the story of what actually happened. He did this, not because I was his friend, but because he believed in fighting for social justice and he couldn’t handle someone abusing power and squandering such valuable resources in the fight against police brutality. When I approached him about the story and referenced his own experience with police brutality in the piece he wrote about being placed in a headlock at 11, he acknowledged the event, but contextualized for me that he’d faced police brutality, misconduct & misbehavior many times growing up as “brown kid in Texas.”

Working with Feliks through this story not only validated the issues that we had as directors working within the constraining confines of Justice Together, but also re-dedicated our commitment to continuing to work toward ending police brutality and the killings that Feliks and others have defined as 21st century lynchings. Working with him to see that article to fruition, I know I felt that I owed it to Feliks — and still owe it to Feliks — to continue to confront the issues of racism and state violence in the US.

Feliks also cared deeply about immigrants, refugees and incarcerated people and the intersections of those worlds. He broke away from the presidential campaign for a day to write an article about the National Prison Labor Strike Against Prison Slavery in September and was committed to continuing to write about the protests of prisoners fighting for basic human rights and against prison slavery.

As a grandson of immigrants on both sides of his family, as a part of the Mexican-American community, and as a lover of people, Feliks saw the cause of immigrants and refugees in America as personal to him and his community. He wrote a moving portrayal of Syrian refugees in Texas after the election. He also wrote about the changes in immigration rules that Trump was pushing forward.

However, he was often frustrated by his inability to really report in-depth about the issues that he cared about the most deeply. In professional journalism as many of you know, your energies are often directed in other directions by editors and the bottom line. When he died, he was working on a piece in which he interviewed a prisoner incarcerated in South Carolina, a prison abolitionist from Texas, and was working to pull together connections between Trump’s support of the private prison industry, Trump’s new immigration and refugee policies, and the privatization of immigrant detention and deportation.

On the day he passed away, he spoke to me of finishing that piece, which he’d been working on since November. Hours before he passed, he wrote to me about how stressful it was for him to cover Trump day in and day out, stating that it “saps any energy I have to write about real things.” He noted that “writing about prison, writing about immigrants, writing about poverty IS covering Trump.” Although he didn’t enjoy covering Trump, it is worth noting that Feliks did an excellent job of it in spite of his feelings, and had develop a cadre of self-ascribed “deplorables” who trolled him and called him a purveyor of “Fake News.”

He made a poignant podcast about the election party called Red Pill/Red States, which talked about the radicalization of white men through online forums and targeted radical right wing propaganda. He couldn’t understand the mental universe that Trump supporters lived within, but he tried to nonetheless. He understood, even on the night of the election, that the path toward justice in America would require that we understand more about the things which divide us.

Although brief, in that last online conversation I had with him, I felt he was committed to again using his force of will and incredible talent to redefine how he reported on Trump, ensuring that he found a way to center the voices of the marginalized, voices of the people, who are organizing against Trump’s agenda even if he felt The Independent saw his role for the time being as covering Trump actions, pressers, and events. I am saddened that Feliks didn’t get to continue to take up that cause, and I hope that others do.

Although he was very modest about it, Feliks was also an amazing musician, and if he’d stayed committed to it, he might have made a career out of it. He had a complicated relationship with his father and music, which he wrote a beautiful essay about back in 2015. He never spoke in depth to me about his father, but as a father of a biracial son, that essay has served both instructive and cautionary purposes for me. That essay also touches upon the barriers and challenges of the music business that ultimately drove him away to journalism school.

Inspired at a young age by the Simpsons, Feliks Garcia was a humorist with a unique sense of humor and an infectious laugh. It was this part of Feliks that endeared him to The Rock, as Feliks parlayed his failed attempts to reach out to The Rock into a humorous article for The Daily Dot, where Feliks was a long-time contributor. He was the inventor of the hilarious Ice Cubiverse fan theory and he had a complex relationship with Chihuahuas which he also used for laughs.

When I met Feliks Garcia in 1999, it seemed like we had very little in common. Sure, we were both awkward teens from places (me from Southern Oregon, him from Texas) that probably seemed a bit “country” — to our new friends from Chicago, DC, NY, Boston, and Memphis — but at the time that seemed about the only thing we had in common. The amazing thing about those summers, at an academically based summer camp in New England, which Feliks received a full scholarship to attend, was that we all got an opportunity to “find ourselves” as nerds among nerds, probably many of us social outcasts back home where being smart was rarely seen as cool, and could sometimes be dangerous. In speaking with Feliks’ sister Felicia, she noted to me about those summer sessions in New England, “We didn’t love Fort Worth and those summers definitely kept him going.” They meant the same to me, in many ways they might have saved my life, but at the very least they gave me the confidence that I was going to be alright, I was going to meet great friends, and I might even find a girl who loved me for who I was.

I remember openly weeping with Feliks and our dear friend Alvin Black III on the last day of summer session there during our last summer there together, thinking perhaps we’d never see each other again. Although we didn’t spend as much time together in person after those days — spending most of our time living in different parts of the country — we built a bond that would last forever and we stayed in touch. The outpouring of sadness and support after the loss of Feliks, tells me that he built those bonds with many people over the years.

Feliks, I love you my friend, the rest of the world has some big shoes to fill.