Pledging Relevance: From the Million Man March to Education Budget Cuts, Black and Latino Fraternities and Sororities Lock Step with Their Communities

By Rodriguez, Roberto | Black Issues in Higher Education, November 1, 1995 | Go to article overview

Pledging Relevance: From the Million Man March to Education Budget Cuts, Black and Latino Fraternities and Sororities Lock Step with Their Communities


Rodriguez, Roberto, Black Issues in Higher Education


Pledging Relevance: From the Million Man March to Education Budget Cuts,. Black and Latino Fraternities and Sororities Lock Step with Their Communities

During a speech given at the recent Million Man March, Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan pointedly praised the work of the nation's Black fraternities, particularly that of Phi Beta Sigma -- which donated space for march coordination activities. The gesture underscored the historic role Black fraternities and sororities have played in the African-American community's quest for civil rights.

Dr. Lawrence Miller, executive director of Phi Beta Sigma, said when march co-coordinator the Rev. Benjamin Chavis, who is a Sigma, "asked for our cooperation on the march, we opened our doors...."

All the major Black fraternities endorsed the march and took part in it.

"We believed in the mission of the march and took a positive stance," said Miller.

As a direct result of the march, Phi Beta Sigma will begin a mentoring program and will take part in the voter registration campaign that Farrakhan endorsed.

Safety and Survival

Black Greek-letter organizations were formed at the turn of the century as a means of self-protection and survival. Dr. Ted Smith, executive director of Kappa Alpha Psi, says the segregation and discrimination during this period bonded these organizations into dealing with social and political issues. Many early pledges were sons and daughters of the professional class -- physicians and lawyers -- because their parents could more readily afford college tuitions, notes Smith. The era created socially conscious fraternity and sorority members who participated in civil rights, and themselves went on to become doctors, lawyers, educators and school administrators. "They became the leaders in our communities," says Smith.

The distinguishing characteristic of the Black organizations is that they were founded upon the basis of service. Says Smith: "They were [and are] obligated to take our service to our community." The areas that most Black organizations are involved in include: education, voter registration, youth programs, adopt-a-school programs, mentoring and scholarship assistance.

Smith attributes a fall-off in this traditional role as one reason for the increasing number of hazing incidents during the past decade. Without being snobbish, the organizations must return to the standards of excellence practiced prior to the 1960s, he says.

Jason De Sousa, assistant executive director of Kappa Alpha Psi, says that hazing occurs because of a desire to fit in -- to be a part of a system of support and friendship. "To do so, some will compromise their values. For some, it's a rite of passage."

Because of a number of deaths within the past 5 years, Black fraternities received a bad rap and recruitment slowed. However, De Sousa believes recruitment is now back up slightly. Black fraternities and sororities have once again become popular not because of philanthropy or scholarship but because of television, movies and music videos which highlight social dances and "stepping," he says.

However, a big part of the agenda of fraternities and sororities, says De Sousa, consists of political activities.

"Our biggest heroes are Martin Luther King Jr. and Thurgood Marshall -- they were members of Alpha Phi Alpha."

A representative sampling of fraternity and sorority "brothers" and "sisters" could include: civil rights activists Rosa Parks and the Rev. Jesse Jackson, former Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, Spelman University President Dr. Johnetta Cole, Reps. John Conyers (D-Ml), Ron Dellums (D-CA) and John Lewis (D-GA); activist-comedian Dick Gregory; Nobel Prize-winner Toni Morrison; and Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun (D-IL).

De Sousa proudly points out that at least 400 members of his fraternity participated in the Million Man March.

"Fraternities were well-respected at the march. That's important for us. …

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