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Black Fraternity Looks To Future


Alpha expands globally as chapters are chartered in London, England, and Johannesburg, South Africa, during the fraternity's 104th Anniversary Convention/90th General Convention in Las Vegas. From left are Brothers Taurean Branch, Eastern Region assistant vice president; Sean McCaskill, Eastern Region vice president; Ronald Sewell, president of the London alumni chapter; Herman "Skip" Mason, Jr., general president; Michael Sudarkasa, president of the Johannesburg alumni chapter; and William Douglass Lyle, Alpha's executive director. Photo by Jeff Lewis.

BALTIMORE  -- Heading into August, more than 50,000 members of Alpha Phi Alpha from the U.S. and around the world will begin implementing new plans to improve local communities after holding their annual convention last week in Las Vegas, Nevada.

The organization, the fraternity of Martin Luther King Jr., and the first African-American and integrated Greek-lettered organization in the U.S., conducted its 104th Anniversary Convention in Las Vegas (Wednesday, July 21 through Sunday, July 25), after moving the meeting from Phoenix, Ariz. Alpha was the first major group to boycott Arizona over its harsh immigration-enforcement law.


"We came to Las Vegas because we simply were not going to spend our hard-earned dollars in a state that would make as a matter of law, the potential for racial profiling and civil- and human-rights violations of our members and others," said Herman "Skip" Mason, Jr., general president of the fraternity.

The fraternity did not just take its money and run, after making its decision to leave Phoenix. A major part of the Las Vegas convention was dedicated to a forum on immigration. The panel discussion included several key members of Alpha Phi Alpha who were joined by Carlos Famadas, chairman of Phi Iota Alpha Fraternity, the nation's oldest Latino fraternity, founded in 1931.

Alpha Phi Alpha, founded in 1906, has initiated up to nearly 200,000 members - all college educated individuals. The annual convention brought together 1,500 delegates and scores of other members from around the world to usher in new changes and programs that will impact millions of people around the world.

Particularly of note, the fraternity agreed to build an academy in earthquake-torn Haiti, to help educate young people there. The fraternity sent a relief mission to the island in February and issued a follow-up report at the convention.

On civil rights, one of the group's most notable members, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Andrew Young, a lieutenant of Martin Luther King Jr., issued a call on the White House. Young said it was high time for the women of the U.S. Civil Rights Movement to be honored and tied his request to the issue of the firing of U.S. Dept. of Agriculture employee Shirley Sherrod. Her ouster came after prodding from the NAACP and the White House demanding Sherrod's removal after a short video clip on a right-wing website blog depicted that she had made a racist statement toward a white farmer. The blogger's representation of Sherrod turned out to be inaccurate, after her complete speech, on video, was made public.

"We need a Presidential Medal of Freedom for the women, such as Shirley Sherrod, for all the women who helped fashion and lead the U.S. Civil Rights Movement," said Young who addressed the convention. "We've always honored the men; it's time the women were honored too."

The president and CEO of the NAACP, Benjamin Jealous, addressed the fraternity's board of directors during the convention about the Sherrod issue and also the NAACP's October "March on Washington."

"I will be issuing an apology to our members and the general public," said Jealous. "We have been counted on by the country to get our facts straight and we will become more deliberate and circumspect as a result of this experience."

Historically, the fraternity has worked in the continental U.S. to serve local communities through its own national programs and partnerships with organizations such as the March of Dimes, Big Brothers Big Sisters and the Boy Scouts. At this convention, however, the delegates overwhelmingly approved a plan to "go global" by chartering new chapters in Africa and Europe. The newest outposts for Alpha expansion are in Johannesburg, South Africa and in London.

"Our goal is to take Alpha into the communities that need our presence, in our city and our country, everywhere we are needed," said Mike Sudarkasa, chartering president of the new chapter in South Africa, who has made Johannesburg his home for 10 years.

Fraternity brothers are also re-establishing a chapter in Liberia, and had several members attend the convention from Asia, Africa, Europe, the Caribbean and the Middle East. Members who made the longest journey to the convention site were from South Korea.

The fraternity also ushered in and formally adopted a new world-wide plan to save black boys titled ‘From the High Chair to Higher Education.' The initiative will deploy Alpha members into communities to serve and work with boys from the time they are toddlers through high school to college.

The environment was not left out of the scope of the organization's big four-day agenda. The delegates adopted a plan to "go green." The ‘Alpha Goes Green Initiative' will provide direction and focus for its members to help end environmental injustice, grow the green economy in depressed communities, while advocating for healthier, greener neighborhoods. The fraternity kicked off the program at the convention by eliminating the traditional use of tons of printed paper for reports and documents.

"We put most of our reports in electronic format and members used their notebook computers and other mobile devices to read and share information," said William Douglass Lyle, executive director and COO of Alpha. "We set up our meetings in classroom setting so each member could use a laptop to review and read reports, which saved money and a whole lot of trees."

The brothers did not just huddle in the confines of the Bally's Las Vegas Hotel Casino, the entire week. Many ventured out into the local Las Vegas community to leave their imprint on the desert city.

"While in Vegas, we of course planned to handle our internal affairs, but also wanted to leave a positive mark on the city through our outreach to local communities," said Mason.

Each year the fraternity conducts a local community service project wherever its convention is held. Last summer in New Orleans, the fraternity sponsored one of that city's largest-ever health fairs. The fraternity, whose motto is "first of all, servants of all..." provided free medical and dental screenings available to thousands of citizens in Louisiana. Last week, in Las Vegas, the fraternity deployed members to local barber shops to promote healthy living and provide health screenings for major diseases, as part of the Black Barbershop Health Outreach Program, lead by Alpha Brother and noted author Dr. Bill Releford, of Los Angeles, Calif.

The fraternity also took time out to honor several of its Alpha Phi Alpha professional athletes, who helped pave the way for many of today's superstars in the NBA and NFL. Mason bestowed the fraternity's ‘Jesse Owens Award of Excellence' on former NFL players Charles Haley, Henry Lawrence, Mike Merriweather and Rosey Grier, Eric Wright, Michael Jackson, Wesley Chandler and Carl Eller. Former NBA standouts Stanley McKenzie Walter Bellamy and Walt Wesley also were honored, as was current Cincinnati Bengal Dhani Jones.

Among other luminaries who addressed the convention included Alpha members Michael Blake, deputy associate director of the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, U.S. Sen. Roland Burris of Illinois; U.S. Rep. Robert "Bobby" Scott, of Virginia, and Retired Army Captain Wes Moore, author and Afghanistan War veteran and Stuart Scott, anchor of SportsCenter on ESPN.

"We had much on our plate, in Las Vegas. Now as we head into the fall months and beyond, it's time for us to start serving it throughout the United States and the world," said Mason.

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