On December 4th, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity celebrated its 105th birthday. Every year around this time I reflect on why I joined. I am a Spring 2000 initiate of the Tau Iota Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc. located on the campus of Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama. The aims of the fraternity, which caused me to seek membership, are “Manly deeds, scholarship, and love for all mankind.” These aims have inspired members to conduct programs such as Go to High School Go to College, Project Alpha, and A Voteless People is a Hopeless People. Throughout the years the fraternity has also partnered with organizations such as Big Brother Big Sister and the March of Dimes.
When the word philanthropy is broken down it means love of humanity. The idea of philanthropy is not new in the African American community, yet the use of the term is. The idea of philanthropy is evident in the ideas and aims of the fraternity. In the early 1900s the founders of the fraternity saw that there was a need for them to organize to support African Americans to stay in school at Cornell University. They took their time, talent, and treasure, pooled them together and founded Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc.
Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc is an example of what collective giving can accomplish. Earlier this year the Martin Luther King Monument was dedicated on the Mall in Washington DC. There were two things about this event that I will forever have an impact on me. The first is the most obvious. A monument of MLK on the Mall in Washington DC along with the other figures speaks for itself. The second is this: Alpha Phi Alpha led the movement to make this happen.
That means that an African American lead organization had the political and social capital to get a bill passed in order to build a monument, the financial ability to give more than a million out of our own pockets, the vision to leverage business and financial partnerships to raise approximately $120 million needed to build the monument, and the strategic planning capability, the leadership to pull all of this together, and the audacity to do it. I may be biased but I have not seen or experienced an African American-led organization use collective giving to make this type of impact in my life time.
As you can tell, I am proud of my beloved fraternity. However, I challenge us to refocus and take on issues that impact communities of color in the same manner that we undertook to build a monument. Let’s go beyond the national programs and use the same political and social capital, financial ability, vision to leverage business and financial partnerships, strategic planning capability, leadership, and audacity to deal with a social issue that is adversely affecting our community. The issues – such as education, health care, and economics – that we face in our communities of color are huge. However, I challenge individuals and organizations to have dreams large enough to fight these issues, be innovative in developing the partnership necessary to gather the resources for the battle, and be strategic in your methodology of attack. The church in the African American community, the Civil Rights Movement, and Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc are different examples of how and when we work and give collectively we can create the communities that we all desire to see.
Onward and Upward
Lyord Watson Jr. is a member of the Mu Psi Lambda Chapter, and a member of the CIN Board of Directors.