This week, I shall join with thousands of my Brothers of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Inc. for its 84th Grand Chapter meeting for our 2019 Conclave. It is an event that occurs every two years for the purpose of conducting business: particularly the election of new officers; a re-dedication of members to the principles of the fraternity; to reflect upon our 10 Founders, young Black men who were trying to make a difference in their individual lives, while entangled in a society that was unaccepting and passively hostile to them; to bond and fellowship with Brothers; to socialize with family members and guests in attendance; and to brand our fraternity in the host city for the Conclave.
Each time I attend a Conclave, I recall many fond memories of college life. Those memories include the period when I became a Kappa and established lasting friendships as a result of my membership in this fraternity. This membership has aided in my development and shaped and influenced my life.
I also think about the hundreds of men with whom I grew up and are Kappas today, not as a result of a coordinated plan but by happenstance. For me, the journey into Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Inc. began in 1959 on the campus of Delaware State College, now Delaware State University.
All of you, who are Greeks, have memories of the circumstances that lead you to join your sorority or fraternity.
If not for two of my friends, during my sophomore year of college, I might not be wearing the colors of crimson and cream. Growing up on the street corners of 43rd and Fairmount in the “down the bottom” section of West Philadelphia, did not lend itself to fraternal life — but, then again growing up in what some called “the bottom” did not even lend itself to college life.
While many of my classmates at West Philadelphia High School became members of Alpha Phi Beta Fraternity, a high school fraternity, my interest was more in line with a gang called The Fabulous Kings. Fraternity life was just not in my DNA. Once in college, when the pledge period began and everyone was scurrying around getting their letters and other requested information together to submit for possible admission to what was then a “pledge group,” I was cooling out in my dormitory room listening to my do-wop records.
The deadline was fast approaching to submit letters when two of my friends from Philadelphia and Chester, Pennsylvania, Irv “Weasel” Heath and LaMonte Owens respectively, came to me and inquired if I had submitted my letter of interest.
I recall telling them that I had no interest in a fraternity. So, my good friends worked on me for hours touting the benefits of being a Kappa man. Thus, with only minutes before the deadline, I decided that I would at least initiate the process by submitting a letter. After all, I concluded, I could always quit. There was one problem! I had no letter in those last few minutes.
LaMonte simply said, “Here is a copy of my letter. Use it as a guide.” Although I knew that he said use it as a guide, I copied it verbatim. Thus, my introduction to Kappa Alpha Psi was standing in front of my soon-to-be “Big Brothers” when LaMonte and I were asked if we wrote our letters. Answering in the affirmative, we were both instructed to read our letters out loud and at the same time. We were accepted and as you would guess, this was a painful introduction to Kappa life through techniques that were used to instill in us discipline and respect, back in the day.
I know that my introduction to fraternity life and my experiences in becoming a Kappa are not much different than what other Greeks of my age experienced in the past. For all of us, things were quite different from the new intake process of today. Quite frankly, although I was subjected to and even participated in carrying out aspects of the “old process,” as I look back, it made no sense and is something we should have never engaged in nor permitted.
As much as we should forget certain aspects of past fraternity and sorority initiations, there are some things we just cannot forget.
Talk with anyone pledging in the past and the one thing they will undoubtedly recall is the length of the pledge period. On many campuses, the pledge period lasted for close to a year.
Some of you did as I did; getting up early each morning to go to designated Big Brothers’ or Big Sisters’ dormitory rooms to sing a wake-up song. How many recall shining shoes of a Big Brother? As a pledge to Kappa Alpha Psi, I will always remember wearing a red tennis hat with the name “scroller” on the front. I also vividly recall having to wear a “scroller” pin whenever I wore a suit and tie.
Conclaves always takes me back to memories of singing the Scroller’s Hymn, which I recently listened to on YouTube. Aside from the Kappa Hymn, the Scroller’s Hymn, along with “In the Year of 1911” are my favorite Kappa-related songs of the past. Singing was one of the easy aspects of pledging as we had to have creative and harmonious singing.
As much as it annoyed me and my Brothers, we understood that there were the more difficult aspects of pledge life involving wood and the Stratovarius that thanks to some wise Kappa men and changing times, have been left, back in the day.
After many of us had completed the process to become members of a fraternity or sorority or had “gone over” as it was called, we headed to “The Guild” in Washington, D.C. This was the place to go to purchase hats, jackets and other Greek paraphernalia. Back in the day, everyone who could save up a few pennies just had to have a great looking sweater. Typically, these sweaters had your fraternity or sorority shield on the front, your organization name in large letters on the back and your name in small letters on the front. While I was initiated into Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Inc. in 1960, my sweater remains with me, packed away in my basement den. Yes, it may be a few sizes too small to wear, but it will never be discarded. It is visibly displayed alongside my first cousin’s Kappa sweater given to me which contains the letters Alpha Tau from Bluefield State College, of Bluefield, West Virginia, where he became a member in the 1950s. Also, proudly displayed with many of my Kappa paraphernalia is a long-playing Kappa record containing the Kappa Hymn and several other Kappa songs. How and where I acquired this record, God only knows!
Whenever I put on a suit and tie, my life pin goes into my lapel buttonhole. It cost $300 back in the day. This takes me to one of my criticisms of Black Greek-letter and other Black organizations. While I will not live to see it, we should collectively as Black organizations, have a place of our own where we spend our own monies rather than spending our monies in venues that we do not own or control. I must say, that Black Greeks must stop showing off their paraphernalia until they make a commitment to financially support the organizations in which they are members.
How can our fraternities and sororities grow and prosper without “active” brothers and sisters that provide financial support? While all Kappa Conclaves have been memorable, the ones that stand out in my mind are our 80th which was our centennial gathering in Bloomington, Indiana to celebrate the 100 years of our founding on the campus of Indiana University. Then there was the 72nd Conclave here in Philadelphia in 1995. Every morning when my alarm goes off, I reach over to the radio on my nightstand to a clock radio that was the souvenir given to all registrants of that Conclave.
So, as I enjoy the Conclave activities of this week and as I reflect further on the serious and fun aspects of my life as a member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Inc., I must pause and thank my two college classmates, Irv Heath and LaMonte Owens, both of whom are Kappa men today, for cornering me in my dormitory room in 1958 and giving me a “going over” and a “drilling” that has resulted in my knowing the meaning of Phi Nu Phi. I will always be thankful for their persuasive skills and their “stick-to-it-tive-ness,” back in the day that lead to my being a Kappa man today and for my attending this Conclave this week.