January is the birth month of most of the so-called Black Greek-letter organizations, commonly known as the Divine Nine and officially known as the National Pan-Hellenic Council.
As a proud member of one of them, I must make it crystal clear right here and right now that we ain’t no “Black Greeks” and that we must immediately stop referring to ourselves as such. We are Black people, specifically African people.
At least 2,000 years before the Greeks did their fraternity (and later their sorority) thing, North Africans — in particular, people commonly called Egyptians but who technically are Kemites — had originated their “Wisdom Teaching” and their “Sophia” (meaning sophisticated) rites of passage that were designed to pledge loyalty to their culture. After observing some of the North Africans’ activity, the visiting Greeks plagiarized it and referred to it as the “Mystery School.” That’s because when the Greeks asked the North Africans what they were secretly doing, the North Africans politely told the Greeks that it was none of their business and that it would remain a mystery to the Greeks. As a result, the Greeks began mimicking the little that they had seen and began superficial pledge programs that lasted for weeks or months, while the North Africans’ substantive rites of passage — which included a mental obstacle component, ritualistic ceremony, secret handshakes, confidential passwords and spiritual enlightenment — lasted for years.
By calling yourselves “Black Greeks,” you honor the European thieves and dishonor your African ancestors. It’s a shame that many of us went to college and became culturally stupid. But I digress.
Because January is the month in which five of the Black fraternities and sororities were founded, I decided to follow up today on a few columns I previously wrote about the Divine Nine organizations and their need to be Blacker and to “Do for self.” The five are Kappa Alpha Psi (of which I’m a proud member), Phi Beta Sigma, Delta Sigma Theta, Alpha Kappa Alpha and Zeta Phi Beta, founded on Jan. 5, 9, 13, 15 and 16, respectively.
The other four impressive organizations, Iota Phi Theta, Sigma Gamma Rho, Omega Psi Phi and Alpha Phi Alpha (which, in 1906 became the first of the Divine Nine), were founded on Sept. 19, Nov. 12, Nov. 17 and Dec. 4, respectively.
All nine have done commendable community service throughout their existence. But since “To whom much is given, much is required,” they can and must do more — much more! Why? Because they, compared with the majority in the Black community, have better jobs, higher incomes and more advanced education, which together lead to greater resources — resources that must be used to powerfully push our community forward just like the Divine Nine members were powerfully pushed forward by their ancestors and elders who battled to the death during the anti-slavery era, the Jim Crow era, and the Civil Rights era to win the right for us to even get into college.
We can use our aforementioned greater resources to “Do for self” by creating jobs, careers and generational wealth for our community. As I wrote in my Jan. 15, 2016, column:
“Instead of us, members of the Divine Nine ... constantly giving our money to white convention centers and hotels in order to hold banquets, weddings, conferences, and similar gatherings, why don’t we all come together and build our own damn convention center and hotel? The cost is absolutely no problem.”
And now, in January 2021, here’s what I’m writing. My proposed “Divine Nine Hotel & Convention Center” can easily become a reality. It’s basic math, elementary actually. There’s a total of approximately 1.5 million members of these Black fraternity and sorority organizations, ranging from about 30,000 for the smallest to about 300,000 for the largest. Their income is received from several sources, including annual dues of roughly $750 per member. And as one of those organizations noted on its website, only about one in five members actually pays annual dues. Assuming that applies to the other eight organizations generally, that means 20% of 1.5 million members pay about $750 each year, equaling a total of $225 million yearly in combined membership dues for the Divine Nine.
What does that mean? It means the Divine Nine can stop begging the white man to provide overnight accommodations and to host our fancy black and white galas, our conventions, our meetings and our other events.
Here’s more basic math. It cost, for example, only $228 million from 2004-2006 to build Illinois’ Renaissance Schaumburg Hotel and Convention Center, which has 500 lodging rooms, 48,000 square feet of meeting room space, a 100,000-square-foot exhibition hall and a 28,000-square-foot ballroom.
Factoring in the cumulative rate of inflation at 28.4% since 2006, the 2021 cost of that proposed “Divine Nine Hotel & Convention Center” — relative to a comparable $228 million Renaissance Schaumburg facility — would be less than $293 million.
Once again I ask, what does that mean? It means that by diverting our combined membership dues for a little over just a year and four months, that proposed “Divine Nine Hotel & Convention Center” idea could become a practical “Divine Nine Hotel & Convention Center” reality.
Not only could we use it for our own separate classy accommodations and glamorous events but, more important, we could rent it out to the public, thereby generating profitable income and at the same time creating “Do for self” wealth by providing jobs for our community.
I’d like to know what you readers think about this idea. But be forewarned. I don’t tolerate people who find a problem for every solution. I want constructive people who offer positive suggestions regarding how things can be done, not defeatist people who always offer nothing but negative comments regarding how things can’t be done.
In the meantime, I’ll be reaching out for expert preliminary guidance from experienced entities such as the National Association of Black Hotel Owners, Operators and Developers; the National Organization of Minority Architects; the National Black Contractors Association; and the National Bankers Association.
Let’s celebrate the Divine Nine’s birth months of January, September, November and December by working on a plan to be Blacker, to “Do for self,” and to do better — much better!
P.S. In an upcoming column, I’ll be calling out the ostentatiously wealthy Black pastors who pimp their poor Black congregations instead of doing what Black Jesus would do to uplift his Black brothers and sisters by spreading and sharing the wealth. And I’ll be naming names, too. Amen.