This week, Matt Sledge reported in the New Orleans Advocate that former police officer and Phi Beta Sigma member Marcellus White has been charged with five counts of sexual battery on a victim under age 13. Two civil lawsuits also claim that White used his role as a karate instructor and mentor through his fraternity to have access to his alleged victims. [Read more…] about Protect Our Boys
alpha phi alpha
My name is Rashid Darden and I am a novelist. I am also a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. Acting independently from my fraternity and the members who have chosen to boycott, I plan to exercise my own rights:
I will be watching the remaining episodes of Sorority Sisters this Friday night on VH1 from 9:30pm onward.
As I’ve already stated in an earlier essay, I believe that the backlash from the show stems primarily from the dangerous and alienating respectability politics of black folks. Since that essay, and since subsequent shows have aired, I have been witness to the devolution of values of the members of fraternities and sororities who are against the show.
I’ve seen women exclaim gleefully that they couldn’t wait for their sisters to be expelled from their organizations. The cast members of the show have spoken about the death threats they have received, but fraternity and sorority members only said “Well if that were true, the police would be involved.”
Spoken by people who have never been impacted by cyber bullying and harassment.
Perhaps even more insidious than the aggressive attacks against these women is the acts of the bystanders joining the protests. People joined the boycott because it was the popular thing to do. I had friends who supported the boycott who admittedly only did so because they don’t like shows which air “dirty laundry.”
I also suspect that there were those who were adamant about supporting the boycott because it positioned them to be quoted in national media as an expert in Greek life, to perhaps boost their sales or notoriety. Can’t knock the hustle, I guess.
Meanwhile, I have seen a great deal of non-Greeks support the show. They say to me that they are glad to see that real people are members of these organizations–not just the St. John suit-wearing, mink-flaunting, middle-aged socialites, but real women who have bills and kids and kids’ fathers–just like them.
Behind all of this backlash, some will be suspended. Yes, some will be expelled, but hopefully not without deep conversations about sweeping codes of conduct and broad codes of ethics. Conversations need to happen about why some members are given the harshest penalties while others skip off into the sunset, saved because of their high positions in their organizations. Saved because of the political heft of their chapters of initiation. Why can a man who steals from one chapter be expelled from an entire national fraternity, but a national leader who steals from his entire fraternity is not? Why justice for some, but not for all?
Let’s be clear: These women are not being punished for the show. They are being punished for the attention. Had this been a no-budget YouTube series, this would not have been an issue.
But these are conversations to be had within the organizations. Perhaps the lessons learned from Sorority Sisters will be the impetus that all organizations need to create policies which recognize and reaffirm that disclosure of one’s membership does not tarnish a century-old legacy. Indeed, tarnish doesn’t happen overnight.
Perhaps the legacies first began to tarnish when that first person decided that their organization should fund their travel rather than paying for it out of pocket.
Perhaps the legacies first began to tarnish when that first person voted “no” on a candidate because they were suspected to be “funny” or a “confirmed bachelor.”
Perhaps the legacies first began to tarnish when that first person turned their nose up at a young man or young woman who came to college at a nontraditional age.
Sorority Sisters has not made the public think less of Greek letter organizations. It has given us, the members of Greek letter organizations, an opportunity to check ourselves.
We are not perfect. And how we have handled Sorority Sisters reflects our imperfections. The reaction has saddened me, to be honest, especially in the midst of so much in the world we could be working on.
It’s funny to me how none of the conversations I’ve observed have mentioned how our organizations could get a handle on Sorority Sisters and use a second season of it as a vehicle for changing the culture of Greekdom itself. Kefla Hare’s (Alpha Phi Alpha) appearance on Road Rules Australia truly made me look at Alpha in a different light when I was in high school. Before him, I considered Alphas to be arrogant, out of touch, and pompous. Kefla’s appearance on MTV and his representation of a real Alpha made me reconsider. Put Kameelah, an AKA who appeared on Real World Boston in that category also.
This generation deserves to see itself in April, Cat, Adrene, Shanna, Priyanka, MeToya, Joy, Lydia, and Veronica, with all of their efforts to be good, to be better, and to be real. We are not our sisters’ keepers – we are our sisters. We are our brothers. Whether they look like we look or act like we act, we are still them and they are still us.
Thank you, Sorority Sisters, for showing us as we really are–on your side of the television and on ours.
Once upon a time there was a little black boy who won a writing contest in 1995. The Metropolitan DC Chapter of The Links, Inc., gave this boy a $300 prize for his short story “Vampires at Camp.” [Little known fact: Two characters from Birth of a Dark Nation originated in this story.] With this prize money, this boy bought a Single Lens Reflex (SLR) camera – the Nikon N6006. To his friends and family, that meant “the big camera.” All he wanted was a massive zoom.
Although there was some irony in this boy spending his prize money on tools for visual art, rather than using it on becoming a better writer, he was sure that the Links would approve of him striving to become a better artist all the way around. So, through high school, he used his camera practically everywhere he went, investing in film (!) and the cost of developing said film (!!) at the local Giant Food store.
That boy was me. I took my camera to college with me and began documenting my experiences there. I have boxes of photos from high school and college, many that I have not scanned, or I have scanned and haven’t organized them well.
By my senior year, my camera began failing and became useless. I could never afford to get it fixed, so I put it down for good. I then began using a digital point-and-shoot camera with a strong optical zoom. I lost one camera in a taxi cab, then got a similar, better one.
In 2003, around the time I became an Alpha, I got immersed in documenting fraternal life in DC, particularly at Howard, where I had become acquainted with many students and alumni through Alpha Phi Omega and Alpha Phi Alpha. Over the next six years, I took all sorts of photographs with just my little point-and-shoot camera.
And so on. I was also shooting non-Greek things, but I became well-known in the are for documenting the fraternal scene. Not only did the Hilltop newspaper use my 2005 images without my permission, I’ve had people use my images in event flyers and such.
Yes, I could watermark my images. But I choose not to. I think my work has a style that speaks for itself.
At any rate, in 2009 I asked for and was gifted with my first (and current) digital SLR camera! It is a Nikon D60 and I love it. It reminds me of my first camera, but I am pushing myself a lot further with it. Since, you know, it’s impossible to waste film with a digital camera.
Here’s how my images of the fraternal world improved with the DSLR:
And that brings us to today.
I am not a perfect photographer and I try to learn a little more with every photo shoot. I enjoy portraiture and I like event photography. I still have a strand of photojournalism in me.
But all of that is just a preface. I want to stress something for all of you in 2015:
The phone on your camera will always be inferior to a good, digital point-and-shoot camera. And a DSLR camera, when used properly, will always be better than both.
The images on your phone can, indeed, be very very good – if you know what you’re doing. As someone who is better at composition than any technical aspect of my own camera, I sort of know what I’m looking for when I look through the “lens” of my phone. But a camera – an actual camera – gives me far more control up front.
What’s the point of having a phone full of images if they are all blurry? Too far away? Pixelated? Off-color?
Yes, yes, we all know the tricks of the trade – a blurry photo can look “vintage” with a sepia filter. I get it. I do that, too.
But come on, people, I need you to hear me: please invest in your own memories. Get a good digital camera to put in your coat pocket. Capture those moments. Zoom in with an optical zoom, not a digital zoom. Take better photos.
And after you take those photos, download them to your computer. Save them. Organize them.
Invest in photo editing software if you like filters and such. Adobe PhotoShop if you gangsta. OnOne Perfect Photo Suite if you not so gangsta.
Share your photos. I like Flickr a lot because it integrates will with so many social networking sites.
But you know you don’t have to share the bad ones, right? If you took 40 photos and 30 are blurry, it’s fine to only share the best ten! Just keep practicing, get better.
Print your photos! Yes, you can still get your digital photos printed. I use the FreePrints app by Photo Affections.
I just really want everybody to do better in 2015. I’m tired of hearing about young mothers who lose all their photos of their babies because they didn’t have the photos saved externally. I am tired of seeing blurry photos from friends who I know have a steadier hand than their photos portray. And yes, I am tired of selfies.
Of course, you could always just hire your own personal photographer if you don’t feel like doing it all yourself. If you do go that route, think of me first.
When I created Notable Alphas, it was simply an experiment. I wanted to know whether there was enough positive news about members and chapters of Alpha Phi Alpha to provide a steady flow of content on an independent website, Facebook page, Twitter, and Tumblr. In the past year, I’ve listened to the feedback of Brothers in my circle. There are far fewer videos of new member presentations and less news from Capitol Hill. There are more stories about Brothers in entertainment and in social justice. From time to time, I will also provide an editorial or profile that has more of “me” in it—I am a novelist first, and I feel more comfortable in feature writing than hard news.
This will be a “me” piece.
My time as an Alpha has not been without incident. There have been extremely high peaks and there have been valleys from which I thought I would not recover. There has been the realization that my own leadership style is better suited for a much smaller organization, therefore ending my personal ambitions; yet I was able to make significant contributions as a national committee chairman.
In recent years, I have realized that in addition to being a creative person, I am an introvert. Introverts often perform well independently, in solitude. I have, in earnest, reached out to members of other Greek letter organizations to see whether the talents of introverts are being properly utilized on the micro and macro levels. The jury is still out.
For me, Notable Alphas is the best possible way for me to give back to brothers who have given so much to me. Outside of the chapters, the districts, the regions, the conventions, there have been great men, influential men in my life who I am honored to have considered friends. I am not talking about the Martin Luther Kings and Marion Barrys of Alpha. I mean the roommates, the brothers I met serendipitously at conferences, the friends I made back in the days of BlackPlanet, GreekChat, and MegaGreek.
As I said on Founders Day in 2009:
When Alpha Phi Alpha was founded, an entirely new type of organization was born. It was social, yes, in that fellowship was a very important part of the development of its members. And it was surely considered a general fraternity which didn’t restrict membership purely on major or class standing. Nor was it solely a service fraternity like my beloved Alpha Phi Omega. No, this organization was, from the very beginning, one devoted to social justice even more than fellowship, philanthropy, and academic achievement.
In the preamble to the fraternity’s constitution, there is an admonition to “destroy all prejudices.” For my entire time as an Alpha, I have strived to embody that particular charge. I have never hidden my sexual orientation from the brotherhood, not just because I knew doing so would kill my spirit, but because I knew that at some point in the future, I would be looked to by a younger brother as a role model. I had to be me, in spite of the repercussions, so that the road would be easier for others.
There were repercussions. I am still here.
I have tried to be a voice for religious minorities in the fraternity as well. I have tried to be a voice for the artists who are often drowned out in rooms full of doctors, lawyers, and businessmen. And even though I am grad-made and proud, I have spoken up for college brothers–even when there were none within earshot.
I have always believed that we needed to destroy our own prejudices before we can dare work on destroying the world’s. But now I fear that I have waited too long—the prejudices of the world are destroying us.
The time for introspection has passed. The time has now come for action.
Alpha is what it is. We were good. What we used to be worked. Though we are still what we once were, it is now time to be who we should be.
We have to be actively engaged in the liberation of our people from a system which is literally murdering us. We cannot show up just for the protests and the photo opportunities. We have to take deliberate actions as a body of hundreds of thousands of active and inactive members.
We have to dismantle white supremacy. We need to arm ourselves with the many works—scholarly and accessible—that will train our members how to think critically about what is happening to us, from mass incarceration to academic inequities.
We have to expose white privilege everyplace that it lives.
We have to understand that mentoring black boys won’t prevent them from getting shot by racist police officers.
We have to cast off the years of black respectability politics that inform our current paradigm and investigate entirely different ways of service and advocacy.
We have to be feminists. We have to be leaders in the true equality of womanhood while recognizing that they, too, exist in a system which was not designed for their protection. We must fully stand up against our own male privilege and misogyny. We need to stop raping women. We need to believe women who say they are raped. We need to stop being bystanders to behaviors which harm women and threaten their equality.
We have to end hazing.
We have to end brutality.
We have to turn up.
We have to regenerate.
We have to be so much more to so many more people so that we can simply live.
The battle is not the same as it was in 1906.
Trayvon Martin’s killer walks free.
Mike Brown’s killer walks free.
Eric Garner’s killer walks free.
Hell has finally frozen over, Brothers. For our people, for our future, for the world: it’s time to fight on the ice.
Brother Rashid Darden is a novelist. This editorial is not sponsored by any entity and was not reviewed or endorsed by Alpha Phi Alpha.
Brother Rashid Darden, Editor of Notable Alphas, pays tribute to Brother Marion Barry.
” I don’t want normal, and easy, and simple. I want. . .I want painful, difficult, devastating, life-changing, extraordinary love. Don’t you want that, too?” –Olivia Pope, Scandal
And so did the citizens of the District of Columbia want a love just as complicated. A love that had to be explained to the rest of America; to the transplants and transients who arrived here with their carpetbags; and to the racists in Congress who–some to this day–don’t believe in the ability of Washingtonians to govern themselves.
This was our Brother Marion Barry (Beta Xi – LeMoyne-Owen College), who we loved complicatedly, unrelentingly, from the depths of our souls to the marble stairs of the District Building.
Much will be said about Brother Barry’s life of contradictions, from his personal troubles to his investments in the youth and the elderly; from his romantic commitments and liaisons to his uncensored language in council meetings. Those wanting more depth on those topics may read many tributes sure to come. Some will be the typical Democratic, tone deaf, “We were close friends” tributes rife with the illusion of proximity. Others will be fair and balanced, scholarly pieces.
But today, I simply mourn him as my Brother and as a native Washingtonian.
When I was in the fifth grade, sometime during 1989 or 1990, I was somehow chosen to shadow Mr. Peter Parham, DC’s Director of Human Services and a member of Marion Barry’s cabinet. Several of us were selected to go to his office, but before I knew it, I was spirited away from the other kids, who were shadowing office workers, and I found myself in a car with Mr. Parham, on my way to a cabinet meeting.
It all happened so fast. Before I knew it, I was shaking hands with a bunch of cabinet members and ultimately, Marion Barry himself. He was larger than life in personality, just as he seemed on television, yet someone accessible to me, like an uncle or neighbor. Like many of my family, he had that southern twang in his voice, signifying that he, too, had migrated here from warmer places. It was a great moment for me.
The major focus of this meeting was the drug trade. Police representatives brought in all these products that the drug traffickers were using to smuggle drugs into the city: soda cans, bottles of cleaning products, anything you can imagine. I remember, once I got home, feeling a deep sense of irony that the focus of the cabinet meeting was about drugs. I cannot recall if my visit was before or after his arrest, but the suspicion of his drug use was rampant, even among fifth grade playground gossip.
That’s what life was like in DC in the 80s and 90s when you loved Mayor Marion Barry. You knew, but you didn’t care. You cared, but you didn’t know. You loved him anyway, because he definitely loved you. He was a civil rights leader who had assumed the next logical level of responsibility to the people. So few did. So few could.
I would see Brother Barry several more times as a child. He was a special guest at the annual Cherry Blossom poster contest awards (hosted by Effi Barry, his now-deceased ex-wife). He was a special guest speaker at my graduation, as he was practically everyone’s. We all know his speech: “Education is like Coca-Cola–it’s the real thing.”
But the damage of his addiction had been done. Even though he returned to the Mayor’s office, and subsequently city council, people in my generation were tired of being the laughing stock of the nation. We loved him, but it was hard to explain him. We loved him, but we needed more. We needed different. We were tired of the complicated love, the dangerous love. This love had transformed us, but it was time to let go.
Brother Marion Barry was still on the scene, though. Just because I had emotionally let go of my attachment to the “Mayor for Life” doesn’t mean he had let go of me, DC, and the people who lived here. He remained steadfast in his career as a politician, but also ensured that his own story was preserved and told. Just this year, he published his autobiography. A few years ago, he cooperated with the production of a documentary about his life. (Links below.)
I am also personally proud that he was, for a period, affiliated with my chapter of initiation. Mu Lambda Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha in Washington, DC was always proud to include him as one of their most notable members.
Today, we are sad. As Washingtonians. As DC residents. As Brothers of Alpha. His leadership changed my life. His life changed my leadership. He was my mayor. He was my black brother. He was my fraternity brother. My love for Brother Barry hurt. It was extraordinary. It changed me.
And I am grateful that it was all of those things.
Rest in power, Brother Barry.
Hire Rashid Darden for your photography needs in Washington, DC.