Historically, sororities and fraternities have been pillars of the black community, a shining example of our infinite possibilities. These Greek letter organizations (why Greek when we’re generally African?) have represented the leaders on just about every front of Black progress. The brothers of Phi Beta Sigma are now celebrating their hundredth anniversary and other have as well. But these centennial celebrations beg the question: how important are fraternities and sororities to Black life in 2014? And, deeper still: should parents want their kids to join these organizations?
The answer will depend on the parent, clearly.
However, I will tell you a bit about myself before delivering my answer. I came of age in the 1990s. During that time, black life was radicalized and mainstreamed at the very same time. On one had, you still had folks examining race, progress, racism and the multitude of “isms,” but we also saw that our dreams of a burgeoning middle class emerge. There were sit-ins in protest and affirmative action in progress. We saw Million Man Marches and Malcolm X movies. Sororities and fraternities–typically the best of thebest –were at the forefront of it all. This is my generation.
Now, this generation given birth to a new generation, which will be presented with the possibilities of joining the The National Pan-Hellenic Council (NPHC) aka the “Divine Nine”. These include (in no particular order): Kappa Alpha Psi, Omega Psi Phi, Alpha Kappa Alpha, Delta Sigma Theta, Zeta Phi Beta, Alpha Phi Alpha, Phi Beta Sigma, Sigma Gamma Rho and Iota Phi Theta.
So, straight up do I want my child to join one of these organizations? Probably not.
It seems, in the year 2014, the majority of black Greek organizations look more like their Caucasian counterparts on the undergrad level: party and bulls**t. It’s clear that this is not all they are about, but there is a clear and present disconnect between the struggles of old and the struggles of today. In fact, one could argue that the early black Greeks did a great job, so great that the younger ones don’t know the battle has not been won. Back in the day, sororities and fraternities were about service, education and societal impact first and the partying was secondary. I want my child to focus on education and progress–not being a member of a social club.
Also, the pledge process was not the same as hazing, which seems to be a social gathering itself. I know a lot of people think they are one and the same, but they are not. While I’m not at liberty to reveal any secrets, it’s well known that pledging is an honorable matter, a learning process and a physical process too. Mine–one that prepared me for the rigors of real life–was a rite of passage rooted in decidedly African principles. They also weeded out those that didn’t qualify for the organization, to be real. These days, it seems, potential brother and sisters are just subjected to senseless brutality and violence as they try to take their lives to the next level. The news is littered with instances of hazing and I don’t want my kid maimed, wounded or killed trying to join a club. On the flip side, many candidates are admitted to their Greek org without having to earn it at all. So, its not so odd to see the leadership spiral down.
As we look at the landscape, we see that the role of black Greeks waning. Once upon a time, the leadership landscape of America was chock full of Pan-Hell members (too many to name) and now? Not so much. I mean, it’s kind of crazy, but many corporate and civic leaders have no black Greek affiliation whatsoever, but they are Black. Perhaps we’ve succumbed to the notion that enough barriers have officially been torn down for our children to go on to success. Ah, but don’t you believe it, in the eternal words of Bruce Hornsby.
While right now I wouldn’t want my child to be in a Greek letter organization, that doesn’t mean things can’t or shouldn’t change. All statistics prove that we are moving to a complete reversal of our progress. I won’t quote stats, but do your homework on graduation rates, financial disparities, incarceration rates and the prison industry and mortality rates.
There’s a need for these Greek Letter organization in our communities, if nothing else to provide role models for kids. These days, the stakes are too high for kids to be caught up in a college environment and it not be focused decidedly on the uplift of themselves and their people. If we can get back to that, we’ll see Black Greeks become increasingly impactful and that’s simply divine.
Here’s to the next hundred years.