Sunday, August 30, 2009

Black Frats & Sororities: A Dream Deferred?

What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore--
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over--
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?

- Langston Hughes

To My Fellow Brothers and Sisters of the Historically Black Fraternities and Sororities, I respectfully submit to you the following question:

Who in the hell left the gate open?

My call for introspection derives from the most recent Florida Courier article written by Omega Psi Phi member Mo Kelly, which you may read in its entirety HERE.

From the article, I will quote in relevant part the following:

"The recent high-profile inductions of former president Bill Clinton, Rev. Al Sharpton, Stevie Wonder, Martin Lawrence and other notables into Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity offer the perfect entry point to discuss the direction of the nine Black Greek Letter Organizations (BGLOs).

Martin Lawrence, who has never seen the inside of a college classroom as a student, is the educational example Phi Beta Sigma wants young African-American men to emulate? Alpha Kappa Alpha is somehow elevated by inducting Alicia Keys, who dropped out of Columbia to pursue her music career? It sends a troubling message. Young people hear very well and recognize hypocrisy in all of its forms.

As we collectively move further and further away from the principles of brotherhood and sisterhood and closer to big business, perhaps these are the inevitabilities.[sic]

The all/majority Black Greek-letter organization doesn’t necessarily hold the same appeal to a college freshman in 2009 that it did in 1969 or even 1989. Kids can “step” in high school (which aggravates Mo’Kelly to no end). They don’t need to go to college and join an organization to reach the dangling carrot of stepping anymore. Membership used to have its privileges, now people can get the privileges without the “inconvenience” of membership.

What does it say when in the latest round of Phi Beta Sigma honorary inductees, only the White man – Bill Clinton – has a degree from an accredited four-year college or university? It says it won’t be long before all of us are irrelevant, then extinct."

Although I don't agree with everything written in the article, the man makes a point. I know that my own fraternity, Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc., does not allow honorary membership, but the true issue being spoken to here is larger than whether an organization allows honorary membership. That's merely one symptom of the larger problem. No, the larger problem is, as the article points out, the fact that as a collective, we (as in all of us) are moving further away from our principles and more towards becoming a mere business where anything goes. That lends itself to members who don't respect the organization in which they are a part of, and if you don't respect your own organization, then it's unrealistic to think that any interested 18 year old freshmen looking to pledge ever will.

I don't have to repeat to any of you the long list of historical landmark achievements that our organizations and the members within our organizations have contributed to our society since the early 1900's. I'm sure you are all well aware that nearly every single notable African American throughout U.S. history first learned how to train for leadership within one of our fraternities or sororities before they became a household name.

Pledging to become a part of something greater than yourself for the betterment of our community is where "the dream" of the Black community has been fostered within the bellies of our organizations for decades. It is the sole reason why our organizations exist... least it used to be.

Now it seems that we've regressed from (1) a pledging process where bonds were formed between the few who were entrusted to carry on the torch of leadership, to (2) a "membership intake process" hell-bent on allowing anybody with a check book to walk through the door, to (3) a post-graduate honorary process whereby we beg famous people to belong who actually chose not to belong when they went through their own undergrad experience.

I'm sorry but it must be said: if these leadership organizations ever hope to retain the adjective "leadership" not everybody who wants to be in should be allowed in. Just like not everybody is cut out to be a police officer, or a navy seal, or a fire fighter, not everybody is cut out to be in the historically black fraternities or sororities.

And before anybody accuses me of being elitist or divisive, let me quell those rumblings by drawing your attention to the fact that I believe (as do you, I hope) that whoever becomes a part of one our organizations has a DUTY to become a steward for the black community. Stated differently, you must no longer think of what is best for yourself - you must think of what is best for your fellow brothers and sisters in the struggle. Not everybody thinks like that. Some people are only out for self. And that's fine. Do you. However, you can't be concerned with yourself only AND try to join a community service organization. Those two ideologies don't mix.

Thus, I reiterate, not everybody who wants to be in should be allowed in.

There is a greater responsibility at stake for the black community than whether one will look good in fraternity or sorority letters strolling around some party or in a photo op for some celebrity magazine. The pioneers of our community had a dream once that we could stick together and rise above all the adversity placed in our path. Whether we allow that dream to become deferred is up to us. I don't know what will happen to that dream, but I do know this: that dream is intrinsically linked with whom we choose to entrust our Black leadership organizations to. If we're not careful, then it is only a matter of time before we wake up one day and find that dream deferred.
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