Alpha Phi Alpha Inc.
When I went off to study at an all black college I was encouraged to join one of the fraternities. Being a member of a fraternity could actually look good on my resume. The organization of brothers could help when it comes time to network for a job. But I knew nothing about fraternities other than what I heard about the movie Animal House featuring the late John Belushi as a lead with a number of other actors depicting life in a white fraternity. I never bothered to see the movie. The only scene that I’m familiar with is the one where John Belushi is squishing mash potatoes out his mouth in an imitation of a zit. The movie was stupid if you ask me. But that was the extent of my exposure to fraternities and I wanted nothing to do with them.
But black fraternities were supposed to be different. I was told that they actually helped the black community and they promoted black unity. When I got to college my roommate was a senior in the Phi Beta Sigma fraternity. I loved this guy. Me being the naïve nincompoop that I was this man helped take care of me and helped me adapt to my first semester in college. He introduced me to the world of black fraternities and the world of the Sigmas. I have to confess that I never did care for the Sigmas. But my roommate meant the world to me. The only reason I’m not a member of the Phi Beta Sigma fraternity is the fact that the college I attended had a policy that freshmen were not allowed to pledge into a fraternity.
The following year my roommate was gone and a senior from the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity put me in his crosshairs. He was the lone Alpha at the school. When he would leave the Alpha chapter on the yard would die unless some new recruits were made. I was introduced to fraternity parties black people style. I was wined and dined. Literally! One night, at one fraternity party, I was given a mixture of Wild Irish Rose, Thunderbird, and MD 20/20 mixed with Hi C fruit punch. The sweet concoction tasted like seriously fruity Kool Aid. It went down very smooth. But it came back up like fire. That night I was a human fire hydrant. Is that a fire alarm I hear? Don’t worry and just stand back! I’ll put that building fire out with a suffocating mixture of bile and vomit. There were lots of parties. And when the spring semester rolled around I pledged Alpha Phi Alpha with two other pledges. We were on line for six weeks.
Once I crossed over I lost a number of friends. People say that once someone goes Greek people change. The fact is once someone goes Greek everyone changes. Some people start to feel inferior. Some people want to make up for their insecurity with fights and conflict. There was one night when the whole school was in an uproar when a fight broke out between the Alphas and the members of the Omega Psi Phi fraternity. There were some Omegas visiting from another school and the Omegas on the yard were going to show them a good time. They were like a gang looking for some kind of trouble. There was a dance in the recreation center. An Omega hit an Alpha in his jaw because he felt like he was being disrespected. Security got involved. One of the brothers was handcuffed to a stair rail until he calmed down. That was the first night I ever regretted pledging. It was stupid. We were fighting over nothing. Just like the movie School Days. That was well over twenty years ago.
The Alphas, like all the other fraternities, had these events that the entire campus would wait all semester to see. There is the Ms. Alpha Beauty Pageant, the Alpha Ball and Cotillion, the step contest with the rest of the fraternities, the introduction of the new pledges, etcetera. The whole purpose of the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity was to generate an air of sophisticated distinction and exclusivity. The fraternities would compete with each other to impress the rest of the campus as the most distinguished of the fraternities. This is true of just about any of the black fraternities with the one possible exception of Phi Beta Sigma. No offense but they would take just about anybody. And no offense to anyone else but that’s exactly how it should have been.
When I pledged Alpha Phi Alpha I was introduced into a world of self inflicted subjugation. Black people were actually imitating the Greek based social organizations of white people. We promoted debutant balls and high dollar evenings of pomp and circumstance that had little to do with being black or African. There are special events that are designed to promote bourgeoisie behavior and aristocratic airs. One of our advisors, who just so happened to be one of the deans of the college, once told a pledge that he should be thankful that he wasn’t pledging back in his day because Alphas don’t take kindly to members that were too dark. We were a black people whiter than we knew. Alphas, like the Omegas, like Kappa Alpha Psi, like the sororities Alpha Kappa Alpha and Delta Sigma Theta, wanted to avoid our blackness and emphasize our whiteness.
Funny, but I lost track of my fraternity bothers and fraternity itself. The last I heard of the great Alpha Phi Alpha they were working to establish a ninety million dollar memorial in Washington, DC for our late great brother Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. When I read the news article I felt nothing but disappointment in my former fraternity. Ninety million dollars could go a long way for helping black people do something wonderful in the community. Ninety million dollars could sponsor a lot of entrepreneurs or a ton of education opportunities. Instead they are going to spend that money for a tribute to a dead past. No forward thinking on behalf of the black community at all. But they’ll look good.