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The Alfonso C. Relief Fund

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The Alfonso C. Relief Fund
My dear friend Alfonso recently lost his close friend and business partner to suicide.

At this time he is struggling with both the traumatic nature in which his friend Eli died from institutional betrayal trauma and the economic downfall that he was left with in its wake.

What matters most to him right now is recovering psychologically & financially in order to keep himself & his wife above water during this transitional time of healing.

Upon his recuperation he intends to take action toward advocacy and reform to help effect change for others in preservation & honor of his friend Eli’s memory. Her loss has put life into perspective and shown him that what matters most is the pursuit of an existence driven by calling, compassion and cause, changing the course of his lifework to illustrate both a newfound and once lost, now reclaimed meaning, value and worth.

Please Donate, Share & read Alfonso’s tribute to his beloved friend Eli below & help keep her fighting spirit alive. With love, Kelly Grieve:

“My close friend of ten years, Elizabeth Jane Cunningham, committed suicide. A Colombian newspaper in Medellin, where she was staying in an Airbnb to cut costs as she self-financed our marketing agency, reported her as just one of three suicides in a spree of suicides of North Americans in their city. She was just part of a larger epidemic.

Eli was one of the coolest and smartest people I've ever met. But what I admired most about her was her toughness. I've been through some stuff in life. But what I've been through is nothing compared to what she had to fight through literally since birth.

Eli was born to two schizophrenic parents, neither of whom had the capacity to care for her because of their condition. So she was raised by two relatives of her Caucasian mother, whose poverty led them to move from Chicago to an all-white trailer park in Florida. Consumed by religious fundamentalism and in their own way wanting the best for their daughter, they married her off as a teenager to a man who ended up throwing her down a flight of stairs, killing her unborn baby. In the last few years, she confided in me about how much she wanted a child, and how difficult it was to find a man who wasn't intimidated by her combination of beauty, brilliance, and boldness. She never had the opportunity to bring forth life into this world, like she desired.

Eli suffered under the cruelty of the world and the systemic structures in place that oppress marginalized people everywhere. As a biracial Black woman, she faced racism and misogyny. As a lesbian-leaning bisexual, she faced homophobia. As someone who presented in a trans masculine fashion for several years, she faced transphobia. I never asked why she walked that back. I used to be afraid of awkward conversations like that. She faced society's stigma around mental illness, sharing my bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder diagnoses. She faced poverty her entire life, with the exception of a few fairly prosperous years in the People's Republic of China, leaving before that country’s geopolitical tensions ramped up and led to a crackdown on foreigners. Despite her formidable talents as a writer, marketer, and entrepreneur, along with her degree from SUNY Albany, she spent much of her adult life having to support herself through sex work, dealing with some of the worst men around.

And she kept fighting through all that. She was a fighter. Mike Tyson might be able to knock me out in a millisecond, but he wouldn't want to square up with her.

We became friends in 2013 when my buddy Paul told me he had a girlfriend. He meant Eli, who was known as Dee at the time. They were about a month into their relationship. We met at Columbus Circle. Then, like proper twentysomethings, we proceeded to hit the bars in NYC. Eli could have fun too. She had a zest for life that was unquenchable.

In November 2020, after a few months of not talking because of the busyness of life, I received a text message from Eli telling me that she was homeless on the streets of New York City. She asked if I could hole her up for a while. I said yes first and then checked with my wife, who of course said yes without thinking. Lauren's good like that, and in all the ways that count. But many people aren't.

Eli and I had an unspoken pact that we'd keep fighting. And she asked me to fight with her more directly than we'd ever had when she asked me to be her COO in December 2022.

She needed a ringer. She needed someone who would help her and her agency get taken seriously in the Web3 tech space she was targeting, a space that is overwhelmingly white/Asian and male, especially at the C-level. I was her ringer.

We worked together, her taking the lead, every bit the equal in work ethic, intelligence, and drive of the other professionals who have meant so much to me over the last ten years as we fought our fights.

At this point I was already mentally exhausted & heartsick after eight years of giving my all and seeing my partners give their all and still not getting where we needed to be. Especially after the losses of the entrepreneur and inventor I apprenticed under, Jeff Spetalnick, & my mentor, best friend, and co-author Vakasha Brenman.

Then I watched my father decline in a nursing home bed for six months before he died of a combination of dementia, multiple illnesses, and neglect. Again, I didn't choose to fight. And I've struggled with poverty for my entire life. My father was an iron worker, and when his back gave out in my early teen years, we had to get by on government assistance and family assistance.

I'd been tunnel-visioning my last 10 years through project after project, all of them with good intentions and some with terrific ones, but always for the wrong reasons, naive desires of acceptance, wanting to show everyone how talented I am or how cool my life would become. I didn't realize life wasn't a video game. It wasn't about getting the high score and showing it off to your friends. I'm not six.

When I was six, Yusuf Hawkins was lynched in my neighborhood, Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. Yusuf Hawkins was a Black man killed for the crime of being Black in a white, mostly Italian neighborhood. Reverend Al Sharpton led a march for justice. Being a rambunctious six-year-old, my parents told me to stay indoors. I did. But I'm not six anymore. This moment demands more than running and hiding in safety. There is no safety when things like this can happen to anyone.

This fight makes former fights look like a piece of cake, despite losing Jeff to cancer and Vakasha to COPD. Now I’ve lost Eli to institutional trauma disguised as suicide and not long after a different institution let me and my family down because of the way they treated my father.

It was on March 10th, after two months of forward progress, with numerous sales calls lined up, an excellent team, and, for once, a concept that wasn't a moon shot, when it was all taken away. The company banned Eli's account, claiming that she was in violation of their policies around properly representing her identity on the site. They offered no evidence & did not allow her to appeal. When she tried to set up a second account and start from scratch, it was automatically banned. She texted me in frustration on Telegram asking why I couldn't see her profile. It was because of the company, not my own lack of prowess with technology. As a final slap in the face, they didn't even refund the $100 or so for her Sales Navigator subscription.

Eli told me in a text on Telegram, "you just don't get it, man" when I told her it wasn't the end for our agency, and that we had alternate paths forward. I didn't get it. She told me that was the end for our agency, and that she couldn't even swerve to get a job or freelance because without the status that this particular company bestows for professionals, she was doomed.

And so she did the unthinkable. An unfathomable thing that I found out about nine days after she went ghost on me, no longer responding to my messages or calls in Telegram. A Google search of her name in quotes and the city of Medellin led me to a Colombian newspaper that listed her as one of several suicides of North American foreigners in Medellin.

She was so much more than that to me. And she could have been so much more than that to the world. But all her life she was ignored and marginalized.

Eli and I weren't brother and sister, but after her death, I finally watched in its entirety a movie that my cousin Andrew had recommended years prior: Enter the Void. I'm not sorry for the spoiler because plot lines are plot lines and this is real life. In that film, the brother and sister in their youth made a pact that they'd stay together forever. And when a truck crashed into their parents' car, killing both mom and dad instantly, they were split up and sent to separate foster parents. Sometimes life is like that. I feel like I got hit by a truck. I lost Eli, who was like a sister to me. I've never seen someone more like me in all the ways that matter.

This company, this institution, betrayed my friend’s trust, impelling her to break our unspoken pact.

I can't begin to think about how to regroup in a traditional fashion. Just buck up and get another job, or work smarter on the things with partners that are still in progress, or freelance, or start a mundane business that doesn't matter and not aim for the moon this time.

I can't do those things because this moment is too big. The world needs to hear Eli's story so that her death isn't in vain. Eli was my friend. This is personal. But many other victims of things like this may not be personal to me, but will be to others. I need to spend every waking hour of my time committed to what matters now, repairing the world so this never happens to anyone else. No one else should lose their Eli.”

Cheers (beyond tears),


Alfonso Colasuonno
Baltimore, MD

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