There was quite some discussion in 2014 about the five issues I felt Divine Nine fraternities should address. As 2015 has rolled in, I realize that one issue seems to never go away while events throughout the course of 2014 gave me perspective on more things to which our fraternities—Alpha Phi Alpha, Kappa Alpha Psi, Omega Psi Phi, Phi Beta Sigma, and Iota Phi Theta—should pay attention.
Let’s consider two things before we dive into the five issues Divine Nine fraternities should address in 2015. First, it matters not which fraternity feels it is separate from the other four. As far as Joe Public is concerned, we’re all alike. We wear our letters like billboards, we step, have a great time, get loud, wield our influence like swords; and almost every single one of our members claims that he belongs to the best, if not the most relevant, organization (as we should). Second, all eyes are on us on the heels of our helping our dear Divine Nine sisters defeat the infamous “Sorority Sisters” reality show. When people, especially black folks, pay attention to what you’re doing, that means you’re under a serious microscope.
That said, here are the issues Divine Nine fraternities must address in 2015 so that we may better serve our communities:
Easily and unfortunately, hazing is the biggest issue that black fraternities, particularly those of the Divine Nine, still must address. Since the beginning of 2014 there have been hazing allegations leveled against Divine Nine fraternity chapters on at least nine campuses and lawsuits totaling more than $8 million have been filed. One of those resulted in a $1.6 million judgment while the others are pending. Young men have had their mug shots appear in the media and at least one who was arrested in 2014 greeted 2015 from a jail cell.
Because of hazing, the liability for Divine Nine fraternities has become unreal. Scholar and Divine Nine member Attorney Gregory Parks, Ph.D. wrote in his blog “The End of BGLOs”:
“The only thing that truly stands between BGLOs and plaintiffs in hazing lawsuits is the insurance industry. Unfortunately, there are few insurers of college fraternities and sororities. With the steady flow of hazing litigation involving BGLOs, it is not inconceivable that at some point it becomes unprofitable for any insurer to cover any particular BGLO.”
While there is a peanut gallery of inactive members trying to make sure that every new member is “made right” or “real,” our fraternities are stuck with leaders and active members trying to find ways to keep our organizations insured and solvent.
The real shame is too many Divine Nine fraternity members still fail to see the ultimate risk of hazing—death. Consider this. Joel Harris, who died due to hazing in 1989, should be alive and successful in his mid-40’s possibly enjoying a family. Van Watts, a 1983 victim, could possibly be counting down to retirement. Both Joseph T. Green (2001) and Michael Davis (1994) could also be alive and enjoying wonderful careers and families and the list goes on with at least 10 more men and women who are no longer with us because of hazing.
We should make 2015 the year that Divine Nine men commit to two things. First, learn the names of the people who were robbed of their dreams. Identifying the victims will make fraternity members act like true big brothers to their aspiring members. Second, speak up. Those of us who once thought that hazing was the way to go but have grown up need to impart our wisdom on younger brothers. We can help our fraternities grow by finding new ways to help men earn our letters.
In doing “The Black Greek Success Program”, I have been to campuses where Divine Nine fraternity chapters sport such laughable GPAs as 2.1 and even 1.7. The biggest joke is not only do some of these chapters think they “run the yard” but they actually claim they “run the yard.” I wasn’t an academic superstar my entire college career and that’s why I have to warn my young brothers about losing focus.
All five Divine Nine fraternities have a commitment to scholarship embedded somewhere in their aims, ideals or missions. Running the yard is about doing everything your fraternity stands for. The national organizations, colleges and universities have to get tougher on chapters about committing to academic excellence by continuing to threaten chapters’ and members’ statuses. Like hazing, I call on those of us who know better to tell stories of how academic excellence creates real yard runners and career opportunities for members.
UPLIFTING YOUNG BLACK MALES
Theoretically, this should be number one but we have to fix our internal issues to be more effective to the people we serve. As Divine Nine fraternity men, we have an obligation to do whatever we can to help our young black males.
The public should note that Divine Nine fraternities and chapters have programs in place to enrich the lives of young black males. Alpha Phi Alpha reaches out to young black males through Project Alpha, Go-to-High School, Go-to-College and chapter mentoring programs, Omega Psi Phi does so through its Talent Hunt Program and chapter mentoring programs, Kappa Alpha Psi has the Kappa League, Phi Beta Sigma has the Sigma Beta Club, and Iota Phi Theta reaches out to young black males through their Iota Youth Alliance. Also, hundreds of unsung members commit to developing black males through education and other mentoring initiatives and partnerships such as President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper program, Big Brothers Big Sisters, the Boy Scouts of America, etc.
I call on Divine Nine fraternity members to continue their efforts. To those who are not active, strengthen your respective organizations’ programs and initiatives by getting active and giving whatever time you have. In 2014, chapters creatively reached out to young black males through events such as community forums with law enforcement. Most of all, it would be encouraging to see more collaborative efforts such as the partnership between the Kappa Alpha Psi and Alpha Phi Alpha chapters in Huntington, W.V.
PROTECTING OUR BRANDS
I love hearing people talk about enhancing the marketing footprint of their organizations and many of us need to take the hint in Divine Nine fraternities. It is beyond obvious that too many, especially on the undergrad level, do not view their fraternities as extensions of their personal values. Heck, maybe fewer of our members care about values than we realize.
In 2015, I would love to see Divine Nine fraternity chapters commit to helping members practically apply the principles of marketing and public relations to uplift our organizations’ brands. When we dismiss the public’s curiosity or eschew our members’ transgressions, the public sees us as nothing more than letter-wearing, platitude-making clowns. We can’t excite audiences and intrigue men interested in our letters with speeches at meetings but leave the rest of the public wondering what the big deal is. Let’s invest in making positive impressions on the public by walking the walk.
“REAL VS. PAPER”
This debate irks me but it is real. Too many of our members allow their feelings about how folks are initiated to divide chapters, thereby rendering said chapters ineffective (in carrying out the missions of our fraternities). Some believe that those who go through underground processes, which often include hazing, are “real” brothers. Those who go through their organizations’ nationally sanctioned intake processes just signed a piece of paper (making them “paper” members). I can only speak for one fraternity’s intake process but the reality, regardless of the organization, is there are no statistics that prove underground pledging makes members more productive once they are initiated.
We need to make 2015 the year that we worry about the business of developing brothers, regardless of how we feel about their intake processes. I can easily think of “paper” members who are active members and way more productive than those who “took wood” back in the day. Instead of feeling some kind of way and engaging in this brainless discussion, it is time for us to recognize who is active and involved and to give them the respect they deserve.