For more than a century, an effective leadership network for black male college students has existed with dynamic results. The fraternities of the National Pan-Hellenic Council—Alpha Phi Alpha, Kappa Alpha Psi, Omega Psi Phi, Phi Beta Sigma, and Iota Phi Theta—have helped provide members with avenues to become effective leaders in communities around the world.
As Iota Phi Theta celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2013 and Phi Beta Sigma celebrates its centennial in 2014, (with Alpha Phi Alpha having celebrated our centennial in 2006 and both Kappa Alpha Psi and Omega Psi Phi having celebrated their respective centennials in 2011), questions loom about the effectiveness of our organizations.
Going into 2014, there are five critical issues that black fraternities, namely members of NPHC, must address:
1. Membership Selection
From chapter to chapter, black fraternities have come under fire for how we select potential members. In the court of public opinion, there are too many members who simply don’t seem to uphold the aims and ideals of our organizations as evidenced by behaviors such as academic mediocrity and poor social skills. At the same time, too many chapters are criticized for denying membership to men who appear to fit the respective missions of our organizations very well.
Black fraternities must clearly identify and define what makes a potential member a quality candidate and the chapters must be consistent. This is serious business. We are expected to stand on the shoulders of great men like Martin Luther King, Jr., George Washington Carver, Carter G. Woodson, U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush, Arthur Ashe, and countless other Black Greek luminaries.
2. Hazing in Black Fraternities
We continue to see national media stories on a consistent basis about hazing incidents among black fraternities. Hazing is not unique to our ranks, however, it affects the black community more significantly than any other community. NPHC organizational leaders have worked tirelessly to discourage hazing but significant alternatives are needed. In my commentary, “Improving the Black Greek System Through an Intellectually Rigorous Intake Process”, I call for our organizations to adopt an intake model that is based on an extensive vetting process, human resources training modules, and use of human resource metrics.
3. Misbehavior in Social Media
I don’t even know where to begin with this one. Too many black fraternity members seem to completely miss the part about representing the letters with dignity and pride. Either some get sucked in by the “instant celebrity” of social media or they are too selfish to be in a fraternity in the first place. Organizations must hold members as accountable for objectionable content as they hold them for hazing. Mindlessly dropping N-bombs, F-bombs, P-bombs, etc. and posting trash for the world to see has greatly compromised the quality of our organizations.
4. Diminished Public Perception
In the 2006 book, “African American Men in College”, one of the challenges identified for black fraternities was diminished public perception; and that challenge still exists. Having been a public relations director for institutions with damaged brands, I found that media outlets won’t come running every time someone does something nice. Effective public relations is about creating opportunities to tell your story, especially when no one else will.
To create public awareness about members who represent their letters with dignity and pride, our organizations must utilize the widely-read front line resources that are available to us–our web sites and social media. We should also take advantage of opportunities to partner with media outlets. An outstanding outlet for Black Greek Letter Organizations is ProgressiveGreek.com. Also, having worked in urban radio, I know that radio stations that cater to Black America are willing to help us tell our stories. It’s not about getting exposure from news giants, it’s about creating exposure then aggressively promoting content.
5. Black Male Leadership Development
All black fraternities have some sort of leadership development initiative and that is a fantastic thing, but we must answer the call to intellectually fortify young black males on a more substantive level. The founders of each fraternity were thought leaders and the need for thought leaders in the black community is as critical as ever. Black fraternities are well-positioned to create knowledge and opportunity among young black males.
Internally, members must be developed just as people in the workforce enhance their careers via professional development. Members must also be pushed to acquire intellectual capital via post-graduate degree attainment and/or career leadership. Our fraternities must also continue mentoring initiatives and tell the stories of those who have benefited from our programs and initiatives.