Bethany Criswell are partners in life, business, and service. The parents of two are members of Omega Psi Phi and Delta Sigma Theta, respectively, and own the Coston-Criswell Group. Roland was initiated into Omega via Pittsburgh’s Iota Phi alumni chapter and Bethany was initiated into Delta via the Gamma Iota chapter at Hampton University. She is currently a member of the Pittsburgh Alumnae Chapter. Their partnership reflects a life of community, philanthropy and entrepreneurship with their “Coleman Love” serving as a firm foundation. “Coleman Love” refers to the marriage between Omega founder Frank Coleman and Delta founder Edna Brown Coleman.
Because Black Greek life has meant so much to me personally and professionally, I am perpetually curious about how others in African American fraternities and sororities have benefited from their membership. I spoke to Roland and Bethany for my podcast to find out their Black Greek Success stories. Bethany found her way to Delta Sigma Theta after winning an award from the alumnae chapter in Woodbridge, Va. and after being mentored by a Delta her first year at Hampton. Roland’s decision to become a member of Omega Psi Phi was influenced by his pastor and mentor Rev. Dr. William H. Curtis, senior pastor of Mt. Ararat Baptist Church.
Here are parts of that interview that stood out to me (questions and answers are paraphrased):
Eddie (to Roland): When you take a look at Omega, what aspects of the fraternity would you say you connect with the most?
Roland: I would definitely say friendship. Omega Psi Phi, when it is translated, means “Friendship is essential to the soul.” And I would say that the frat has taught me what true friendship is and the antithesis—what it is not. To have a friend is to be a friend. Friendship requires sacrifice. (I also connect with) patience—having patience with friends—and definitely uplift.
Eddie: Do you feel those are qualities that have helped you as a business man?
Roland: I’ve always been a socially conscious person, even before I joined a fraternity. But what was missing, that the fraternity instilled in me, is the mentorship. One of our Cardinal Principles is “Uplift.” After joining (Omega), I made a conscious effort to mentor people in their professions. Our motto in Omega Psi Phi is “Lifting as we climb,” and today I’m always looking for the next person in a profession that I can mentor and lift as I climb.
Bethany: My connection is the community service portion of. Deltas have a heart for community service. We are always giving back to the community, reaching back to our community making sure that the generation is pulled along in the right direction. Being in the funeral industry, we also have a heart for the community. We work with the community every day and just being able to help them through the funeral process gives us so much joy in helping make that process easier for families.
Eddie: Have you felt that your membership is something that has helped you persist in hard times, especially when it comes to business or your career?
Bethany: I do. Being on line, you certainly had to be persistent and always looking toward the goal at the end. I think in our everyday business life, definitely having that persistent spirit helps to persevere and to help these families to persevere. So I definitely see a connection through the whole initiation process and being able to persevere through life.
Roland: One of our Cardinal Principles is “Perseverance” and nothing of value comes easy. My wife and I are in an expansion project and it’s a daily grind to deal with attorneys, the city (etc.). It’s kind of like the pledge process, like “Is this ever going to be over with???”
Bethany: And even going to an HBCU, you had to definitely persevere in order to graduate—not only on the academic side but dealing with the administrative side of being a college student. Those lessons learned helped me persevere through college.
Eddie: I want to shift gears. One thing that people don’t appreciate about Black Greek Letter Organizations is the diversity of people within the organizations. Roland, talk about the first time you realized Omega Psi Phi was much more diverse than you ever thought it was.
Roland: When I crossed the burning sands, the older brothers shared tidbits of information with me. One of the brothers, who is a Gamma Epsilon (Hampton) brother, shared with me that the frat is just a microcosm of society. And as you grow older in the frat, you learn there is a little bit of everything in the frat. You have men like Carter G. Woodson, men (such as myself) in funeral services, accountants (etc.). You have men like one who pledged me. He played football at Notre Dame and he’s an electrical engineer, but he loves carpentry. He doesn’t practice any of his engineering, he likes to redo homes. Anything you need, you can find within the fraternity.
Bethany: In addition to the cultural differences (in a Black Greek sorority at an HBCU), you have people who are on an only child (in their families), and you have people who have many siblings. There’s definitely a dynamic there with so many women; but at the end of the day, you all pledged the same sorority. So you may not be best friends but you will always have love for them. You always will have their backs.
Eddie: Is it okay that everyone (in a fraternity or sorority) is not a best friend?
Bethany: I think, realistically, everyone is not a best friend. Everyone is not into the same things you’re into. Just like with life, you find people who have the same interests and you connect with them.
Eddie (to Roland): “Friendship is essential to the soul” so what do you think?
Roland: It’s interesting you say that. One of the brothers told me, “Your fraternity brothers are going to be like your biological brothers. You love them all to death but there will be those brothers who will take your last pair of clean socks. You’re going to want to smack them but you love them.” We all have our particular interests and you gravitate toward those people. And that’s okay in life. Differences should be celebrated.
Eddie (to Bethany after mentioning Delta’s role in education): One thing I am fanatical about with Black Greek Success is talking about how much Black Greeks have done in education for well over a century. When your sorors engage with their students, have you seen anything where students become more interested in college as (your sorors) use the sorority to engage those students?
Bethany: I have a line sister in Orlando, Florida’s school system. She flaunts her Delta Sigma Theta paraphernalia as well as her Hampton University gear. I have another in Newport News who does the same thing. This allows students to see that if (their teachers and principals) can do it, they can do it. This is giving (the students) something to reach for, something to aspire to. They’re very loving and nurturing to their students and they’re very passionate about getting them prepared, and giving them a solid foundation.
Roland: (Iota Phi) has our Historically Black College Tour which I did as a student, as well. And I remember being a student at Morgan State saying, “Wow, I wish my African American friends back in Pittsburgh had the chance to see thousands of African American students on a college campus whose objective it was to get an education. And what I’m most proud is our Carter G. Woodson Academy. I went to a preparatory school and I remember a lot of my Jewish friends would go to Hebrew school (afterword). And I remember thinking, “What’s this Hebrew school about?” They would go and learn about their Jewish culture. Just this past year, the Carter G. Woodson Academy focused on reparations. One year we focused on entrepreneurship where I taught a class about African American entrepreneurs. We take kids from kindergarten to 12th grade; and we are teaching about African American culture, entrepreneurship, arts (etc.). One of our brothers, who is an engineer, taught the kids about building bridges. So we are definitely at a forefront in Pittsburgh, as far as education.
The benefits of Black Greek life can be far-reaching if properly infused in one’s life. During the interview, I could tell that Roland and Bethany have a great thing going; but they work hard personally and as business partners. Omega Psi Phi and Delta Sigma Theta are not activities to them, they are organizations that contribute to the couple’s vision for their family, business, and community.