by Cornelius D. Jones
As a member of a Black Fraternity, I often find myself wondering have we lost sight of the visions that our founding members once had. It seems to me, as if we have forgotten the primary reasons of why Black Greek Letter Organizations (BGLOs) were founded. The founders wanted Black students to use the educations we received while away at college to improve conditions for Black Americans once we graduated. The idea was to create strong economic power in communities that were and are still underserved. Although each organization has different founding principles, historically they’ve all operated as a unified body to create social change.
In the early 20th century, the inclusion of African Americans was a hope at best. It was also a difficult time for Black students on the campuses of Predominantly White colleges and universities. They were banned from joining social organizations at the colleges and universities they attended due to the color of their skin. This led to Black students seeking ways to cope with the racial discrimination and prejudice they faced on and off campus. The first effort at creating a BGLO was with Alpha Kappa Nu in 1903 at Indiana University. It was disbanded in 1905 as the result of not being able to keep members. One year later, Alpha Phi Alpha became the first Black fraternity to sustain and grow its membership. What is so rarely said is that it started as a study group that offered support for Black male students attending Cornell University. After Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Incorporated was founded in 1906, there has been eight additional intercollegiate fraternities and sororities founded. Nearly each of the organizations were founded on similar principles of service, community, scholarship, and humanity.
A lot has changed from when our Founders put their heads together to create these powerful and meaningful organizations. Many of our members are now opinion makers in the community, and it is important that we remain aware of the power of which is potential to influence change. However, there has been little to no action taken collectively by the very organizations that often boast about what we’ve done in the past. The present circumstances we face in 2023, mirrors what we faced in 1963. There are widespread attacks on African American AP studies, books are being banned, the Florida Senate panel has voted to block funding for colleges diversity, equity, and inclusion programs. In Mississippi the state Senate passed a bill to create a segregated court system in Jackson, and the list goes on.
Meanwhile it appears that members of BGLOs and the organizational leaders are sitting idly by. Perhaps we've grown more comfortable with wearing the letters than we are with doing the work that goes into fighting for social change. Outside of flooding social media with group photos of members wearing paraphernalia while hanging out, the groups rarely publicly speak out on current social issues or take the lead to address concerns. It could be the result of some of the leaders personal internal and external political ambitions have taken priority over being the voice for marginalized people. Can it be due to current members not sharing the same vision as our founders?
Many of us are no longer returning to the same communities that we came from with our degrees. The presence of Black owned CPA, medical, dentist, law offices and other industries in heavily Black communities are long gone. The evidence of this can easily be seen throughout America in urban communities as gentrification has taken over entire city blocks. It is true that our organizations still host quarterly, annual cleanups and do community service projects but it doesn’t have the same impact of us living there. As members we must remember that masses of Americans are still being denied and deprived educational and economic opportunities. Those individuals are almost totally dependent on organizations like ours as their means to relating to the societal issues at large. My message to all members of D9 organizations is simple.... We no longer have the liberty to sit in silence as history is repeating itself before our eyes. Perhaps it's time get all the way involved or admit that our eyes have lost sight of what our founders envisioned.