By: Gregory S. Parks –
Just after I graduated from law school, in 2008, my second book was published —Black Greek-letter Organizations in the Twenty-First Century: Our Fight Has Just Begun (University Press of Kentucky). In the foreword, I made two points about the choice of the title, one internal to Black Greek-Letter Organizations (BGLOs), the other external. First, there are a host of internal issues that they must address. Second, and similarly, their efforts to uplift African Americans must be robust and meaningful. Together, these two dynamics — internal and external — are fights that were not resolved in the 20th Century; they are fights that BGLOs must take-on in this day and in this age in order for to remain relevant, impactful, and even viable.
We are now in the shadow of the United States Supreme Court opinions in Shelby County v. Holder (2013) and Fisher v. Texas (2013). We had to grapple with the court opinions in the shooting deaths of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis. Now, we wrangle with the grand jury decisions resulting from the killing of two black men — Mike Brown and Eric Garner — by police officers. Figuratively, and in some ways literally, the country is on fire. People have taken to the streets to protest, rally, and resist. And the feelings and cries for justice have reverberated around the globe.
On Facebook, journalist Roland Martin asked his followers where were BGLOs in this modern Civil Rights struggle? Brother Martin is a proud member of the same fraternity as W.E.B. Du Bois, Charles Hamilton Houston, Thurgood Marshall, Paul Robeson, Martin Luther King, Jr. and many others — Alpha Phi Alpha — as am I. His question was a reasonable one. Black Greek-Letter Organizations are at a crossroads for a host of reasons. But to Brother Martin’s point, will BGLOs be meaningfully engaged in this modern struggle for racial equality? Will they be timid and do enough just to say that they did something? Will they sit on the sidelines?
I am Alpha Phi Alpha’s national Chair of its Commission on Racial Justice. My words here however, reflect my insider’s experience and an outsider’s (as simply a law professor who researches BGLOs) analysis. Alpha Phi Alpha’s General President, Mark S. Tillman has pushed on many fronts to get and keep Alpha Phi Alpha engaged in racial uplift. He has called on brothers and urged them to meaningfully work in their communities, including around racial justice. He, himself, went to Ferguson, Missouri to rally Alpha Phi Alpha brothers in the aftermath of the Mike Brown shooting. As quiet as it was attempted to be kept, though publicly leaked somehow, General President Tillman pushed for the fraternity to pay Mike Brown’s funeral expenses — not in an effort to show-up any other group, but rather to take the burden off the family of having to collect from multiple sources to cover the cost. Even more, he supported the allocation of a six-figure donation to four Civil Rights organizations from the fraternity and for broad and long-term partnerships between Alpha Phi Alpha and those organizations (for more details contact Alpha Phi Alpha’s Corporate Office). As the fraternity’s national Chair for racial justice, am I satisfied? No! I am never satisfied, as I believe in the ideals and mission of my fraternity, and I think we must constantly push to our limits of excellence, brotherhood, and service. But it is a good start and template.
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