Today is the anniversary or “Founders Day” of Alpha Phi Alpha, one of the historically black Greek letter organizations. Through pure coincidence, I talked to both of my line brothers yesterday. I became an Alpha Man (cough, cough) years ago, and went through the entire undergraduate experience: the ‘neo’ semester, the party walking, the stepshows, the community service, the national convention. Years removed from any kind of active duty, I’m a little surprised; but not by the number of Alphas I keep in touch with. When I step back and put a number on it, there’s quite a few Kappas, Sigmas, AKAs, Deltas, and Zetas I still touch base with on a somewhat regular basis. I think people who went to school with me at the time will tell you I hadn’t gotten to the point of my life yet where I was trying to be noticed for anything. But being a black Greek (especially on a predominantly white campus) makes you known; in all sincerity it was my first taste of any type of ‘celebrity.’
(Side tangent: this is also why I cut a little slack when I hear about some athlete or rapper who gets caught up in a situation they had no business being in in the first place. Maybe it was just where I went to school, but I can tell you, when you’re 19 years old, and you can walk into a party (or a club), and every pretty girl in the joint recognizes you and smiles at you as soon as you walk in the door, that ish feels fantastic!
Now imagine that feeling, and throw alcohol in the mix. Now imagine that feeling, and throw alcohol AND millions of dollars of loose change in the mix. I agree with Jay-Z, “Fame is the worst drug known to man…” And it really is. You can enjoy it in moderation, but I know a few crackheads too! Back to my original point…)
Earlier this year, I wrote a short story based on my college experience. School Daze was the closest to my experience, but that was 20 years ago and a lot has changed since then. Stomp the Yard was cool for what it was, but if you know the history of why these organizations came to be, and how there are really deeper meanings behind a lot of the symbolism that everyone sees, then I think it would be appreciated more by Greeks and non-Greeks alike. Anyway, I decided to mold that short story into an extended sequence in the feature I’m writing now, so we’ll see how it turns out later on down the line.
There’s a lot of reasons young black kids join these groups. Some are just looking to fit in, some are in it for the status factor I mentioned above, some are legacy kids. I’m a first generation Greek, and I’ve seen the good and the bad of the life. I know it’s popular to knock the pledge process, but if it didn’t kill Martin Luther King Jr (AΦA), Robert Johnson (KAΨ), Huey Newton (ΦBΣ), Maya Angelou (AKA), or Zora Neale Hurston (ZΦB), then it can’t be all bad. And those are just the names that came to me off the top of my head. You literally can’t write black history without black Greeks.
I’ve also heard black Greekdom referred to just being a bunch of cliques. I won’t argue against the elitism angle that’s built into it, but I will say this: I’ve been in the game for a little while now. In every ‘system’ I’ve ever worked in, the Greek system, corporate America, Hollywood, religion, family, friends, there’s going to be people who aim to ‘abuse’ the system for their own personal needs, and there’s going to be people who are trying to do the right thing who won’t get ahead because of politics or something else. That’s not a Greek thing at all; that’s life. Go watch the Wire if you think I’m joking.
I may sound down on it, but truthfully my positive experiences as a Greek outweighed the negatives. I don’t really have any ‘nelia anymore (I never thought I’d see the day), but I have the memories. More than that, I have the lifelong friendships and bonds.
So if any of you fools happen to be reading this…1111119!!!!!!!