Alpha Phi Alpha: A Legacy of Greatness, the Demands of Transcendence

Alpha Phi Alpha: A Legacy of Greatness, the Demands of Transcendence

Alpha Phi Alpha: A Legacy of Greatness, the Demands of Transcendence

Alpha Phi Alpha: A Legacy of Greatness, the Demands of Transcendence


On December 4, 1906, on Cornell University's campus, seven black men founded one of the greatest and most enduring organizations in American history. Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc. has brought together and shaped such esteemed men as Martin Luther King Jr., Cornel West, Thurgood Marshall, Wes Moore, W. E. B. DuBois, Roland Martin, and Paul Robeson. "Born in the shadow of slavery and on the lap of disenfranchisement," Alpha Phi Alpha -- like other black Greek-letter organizations -- was founded to instill a spirit of high academic achievement and intellectualism, foster meaningful and lifelong ties, and racially uplift those brothers who would be initiated into its ranks.

In Alpha Phi Alpha, Gregory S. Parks, Stefan M. Bradley, and other contributing authors analyze the fraternity and its members' fidelity to the founding precepts set forth in 1906. They discuss the identity established by the fraternity at its inception, the challenges of protecting the image and brand, and how the organization can identify and train future Alpha men to uphold the standards of an outstanding African American fraternity. Drawing on organizational identity theory and a diverse array of methodologies, the authors raise and answer questions that are relevant not only to Alpha Phi Alpha but to all black Greek-letter organizations.


When I was asked to write the foreword for this book dealing with the organizational identity of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., I was humbled and reflective. I thought about my time and leadership within the fraternity and my similar experiences in state and federal government. These experiences provided me with the opportunity to evaluate different ways of organizing people while also creating an effective organization to meet the needs of the organization’s members and society at large. As I type these words, however, I realize that too often we, as leaders, speak of our hopes and desires for the entities we lead, but we fail to contemplate the full range of those entities’ strengths and shortcomings.

Despite the grandeur of the place where I spend my days and nights working (the White House), those with whom and for whom I work also have to deal with questions of organizational identity. What is the vision of the federal government’s executive branch, and how is that vision executed? How does the executive branch remain faithful to the founding fathers’ core values when the political process provides continual staff transition? The identity, image, brand, and recognition of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue have greater implications than most realize. The way observers and critics view this entity and those who inhabit it can have a monumental impact on what we accomplish for the good of the nation and the world.

Each day I attempt the difficult balancing act of directing outreach to the African American and minority business community for President Obama. It is difficult because, on the one hand, we have a community that has made great societal contributions and is full of pride, but on the other hand, many people of color struggle economically, educationally, and in myriad other ways. In an increasingly diverse society, deep-seated problems based on racial and socioeconomic status still exist. To be sure, people of color are achieving success in ways that were previously inconceivable, and superficially, there seem to be fewer societal challenges facing them. Therefore, we ask, what is the identity, purpose, and relevance of African American and ethnic-specific organizations? We, as people of color, tell others not to give us handouts, but we still convey the need for additional attention to level the proverbial playing field. Given the disparities and gaps that still exist, it is undeniable that . . .

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