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
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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.
Today, the AKAs are coming out at Howard, as are the Ques, and probably a bunch of other folks. I will be 35 this year — gone are my days of showing up on Howard’s campus just to see probate shows. It’s a little unseemly to show up for a show to see some guys and girls you don’t know, even if one is an enthusiast of such things.
However, I do anticipate the many Instagram photos and YouTube videos which are sure to fill my newsfeeds in a few hours. Special shout out to Calilivin09, a former Howard student who did a really good job at documenting all the probate shows/neophyte shows for their entire time there. We underestimate the importance of documentation of these events, and thanks to the amateur documentarians, we can look, remember, compare, and smile.
The bad thing about YouTube is that for all the great neo shows that we’ve seen, we’ve also seen some pretty bad ones, haven’t we? The point of my post is not to clown the worst probate shows ever, but to give all of you in Greekdom just a few tips that can prevent you from having a bad coming out show.
Believe it or not, you don’t have to have a probate show. (Yes, I know they are called New Member Presentations now, but I’m still calling it a Probate.)
Yes, yes, I know on your campus everybody probates. And I’m sure you’re thinking if your chapter doesn’t probate, you will be seen as wack, cat, skaters, etc.
Who cares? The fact is your boys or your girls just might not be ready to present a perfect show in enough time. You might not have enough talented step masters in your chapter to teach them. Or maybe, just maybe, your organization has too many restrictive rules on probates to make it worthwhile.
You don’t have to explain to the public why you’re not having a probate. At the end of the day, never put out less than high quality when it comes to presenting your new members. If you can’t have an A+ probate, have an A+ alternative.
Ever been to a Cotillion? No, I’m not saying have a cotillion instead of a probate. But take the basic idea of introducing new members one by one in a formal way to the community and apply it to an event which would work on your campus.
Have a reception or a tea. Get a multipurpose room on campus, have some nice food, dress up, and introduce your new people. I bet your administrators and grad chapter would approve.
Looking for something less formal? Have a crossing party and introduce the new members by letting them stroll into the party. All you have to do is teach them one stroll.
Wanting to introduce your new members to the campus is valid, and your new members will certainly want to be introduced. But please ma’am, and please, sir, know your limitations. Where it’s time or talent or even challenges of finding flattering identical attire, know that a terrible probate will spell a terrible year.
A few years ago, a sorority I’m acquainted with had so many restrictions on probates that all they could really do was have an all-chapter step show. The entire chapter dressed alike, marched out, stepped, introduced themselves one by one, stepped some more, and strolled out. It was not only a debut for the new members, but a farewell for the seniors.
If restrictions are a problem, there are alternatives.
This is not a probate:
Nor is this a probate:
And this is not a probate:
Happy probate season, everyone!
So, about these chicks and their mothers who are suing Howard University and Alpha Kappa Alpha because they were denied membership into Alpha Chapter.
Actually, I don’t want to talk about them at all. They suck.
Let us instead talk about being a Chapter-publican. Among my fraternity, I tell brothers that I am an Alphapublican. That means I believe that the most important unit in the fraternity is the chapter. It is the chapter who recruits, retains, and reclaims the membership. It is the chapter which serves the community. People join chapters. Based on the national organization’s legacy, of course, but they still join chapters. In an area like Washington, DC, or any other large metropolitan area, there are often multiple chapters of the same organization, each with their own personality and culture.
Leadership of the organizations should support the work of the chapters. People who aspire to be leaders should enjoy the chapter experience – not think about the glory and prestige of being a national, regional, cluster, state, or district officer.
The national headquarters of the organizations should focus on chapter services – giving the chapters what they need in a timely manner to fulfill their obligations of service to the communities.
The chapter is the most important unit. Not the region. Not the cluster. The chapter. Support the chapters.
As such, I believe that the chapter ought to have the final say in matters of membership selection. Always. Even when they are morally or ethically questionable.
First and foremost, every chapter vote ought to be final. When a chapter comes together to vote on who they want, the organization should trust that they have carefully considered who they want, who qualifies, who will be the best fit, etc. If you as an organization or an organization leader can’t trust that you have given the chapters the proper tools to make the right selection, then you have already failed them. Spend your time on training the chapters on how to identify the right candidates.
No one outside of the chapter or higher than the chapter should have the right to change the chapter’s vote in any way. You know what that means? No add-ons. If the chapter has not voted affirmatively on you, then this is the end of the road. There should be no way at all to appeal a decision of the chapter on matters of membership. No Region Directors adding people on after the vote. No parents calling headquarters. No. No, no, no. Bad.
And you know what? No take-offs. It wasn’t until very recently that I learned that some organizations have the power to actually remove a man or woman that the chapter has voted on for specious reasons. Again, if you are empowering the chapter to make the decision to select a line, how is it that one has the time to even check up behind that chapter to “just make sure” they have done everything properly? Sure, a chapter here and there might assist an applicant in fraudulently gaining entry, such as knowledge that the candidate doesn’t reside in the service area of the chapter, or a letter of recommendation which suggests a deeper knowledge of the candidate than is accurate, but you know what? Who cares? The chapter voted yes. The chapter wants the candidate.
Which leads me to the problem of so-called legacy clauses. And no, this is not just an Alpha Kappa Alpha problem. Theirs is just the one you know about.
I am against any policy which bypasses the chapter vote. I do understand the desire to have a policy which honors the bond between mother and daughter, father and son, or between siblings. I get it. I really do. But this bond should not be at the expense of the sovereignty of the chapter.
If your daughter is the bee’s knees, then let her shine on her own. If your son is the top banana, then the chapter will know it. But you, as their parent, will be biased. You just will be. By the time they submit an application, you will have seen their growth over two decades. You will see how far they have come. The chapter they are pursuing will only have known then for two or three semesters. Let them fall in love with your child as you did.
And acknowledge that while we do join organizations, we join them through chapters. The person must fit in the chapter. Let your child find out if they fit. Let the chapter make that determination. Don’t rob your child of the opportunity to forge their own path.
As Oprah quoted someone else on her show, there is a time for the parent to transition from manager to consultant. The women involved in this lawsuit never made that transition. If you are a Greek parent, do your children and your organization a favor: stay out of the membership process until it’s time for you to pin them or come to their neophyte show. It’s the best gift you could give them.
And ponder what I mean by becoming a Chapterpublican yourself. Consider the rights of your chapter, what’s best for your chapter, how your chapter can best serve the community. Don’t undermine your chapter – or anyone else’s – by robbing them of the right, privilege, and responsibility of selecting new members.