The Collegian
Sunday, January 23, 2022

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UR welcomes first historically black fraternity

Nine men became the inaugural members of the first historically black fraternity on the campus of the University of Richmond Friday night, during a ceremony at the University Forum.

Wilshire Bethel, Michael Coleman, Dwayne Foster, Raymond Fraser, Reginald Gooden, Rashad Lowery, Charles Mike III, Jeremiah Morse and Ra-Twoine Fields marched in-step to the Forum singing cadence and wearing black and gold masks. By the end of the ceremony, the men had removed their masks and presented themselves to the university community as members of the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc., joining the ranks of the brotherhood also joined by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and W.E.B. Du Bois.

"It feels good to be out here," Lowery said. "There was a lot of love."

About 200 people attended the ceremony, predominantly students but also family members, staff and Alpha Phi Alpha members from the local chapter and surrounding colleges.

"I feel like I'm living in a dream right now," Fields said. "Just to have black fraternity on campus, we made history tonight. We're about to make a huge, positive impact on this campus."

Tajh Ferguson, president of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. -- AKA and Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc. are the two historically black sororities on campus -- said it was exciting to have a black fraternity on campus.

"I know these guys and they have been working so hard to make this happen," Ferguson said. "This was three years in the making. It's particularly special for AKA because historically, AKA and Alpha Phi Alpha have had a strong connection. They are unofficially our brothers -- the first family."

Ferguson said the existence of a black fraternity on campus was an important step for future generations of Richmond men, because some black men felt a sense of exclusion from certain aspects of campus life.

"I think this is good for black men on campus," she said. "A lot the men here who aren't athletes have felt displaced. Alpha Phi Alpha gives them a place and an organization."

After marching into the forum, the new members formed a line and recited several lines, including the fraternity's objective.

"To develop leaders," the brothers chanted in unison, "promote brotherhood and academic excellence, while providing service and advocacy for our communities."

Then the brothers executed a precise step routine as they greeted each of the historically black sororities, performing a different routine for each. They greeted Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority last with a special degree of warmth.

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"We love you and we cherish you," one of the masked fraternity members said. "You have a family now on campus -- the first family."

After the greetings the members presented themselves to the crowd individually, screaming their names, majors and minors and line names -- a nickname given to them by their brothers -- and an explanation of that name to attendees.

The ceremony lasted an hour and when it was over, the members embraced each other and their brothers from other chapters.

Charles Mike Jr., associate professor of theater, who was there to see his son be presented as an APA member, said he was overwhelmed watching the ceremony.

"When he stepped out, I couldn't even say anything," he said. "I was, I mean, proud isn't even the word for it. I'm not sure I have a word for it."

Mike said the night had a special meaning for him because of his son's roots in both America and Nigeria, the country where Mike III was raised.

"It was history coming around full circle," he said. "I was raised in America and he was raised in Nigeria. Tonight, it was as if he had fully embraced both those sides of his history."

Lowery's father, Ernest Lowery, was also thrilled to see his son step out.

"Like any parent, I was elated to see my child transforming into a man," he said.

Alison Bartel Keller, the university's Greek Life director, said she was delighted to see the fraternity become part of Greek community on campus.

"All the men are wonderful men," she said. "They have worked so hard and overcome some significant [administrative] hurtles to get here today. It's so meaningful to have them on campus."

Bartel Keller did not say whether the fraternity would have a social space such as a lodge in the future.

"That will become a conversation, but today, this is the conversation," she said, referring to the ceremony.

APA was founded in 1906 at Cornell University and it focused heavily at that time on Civil Rights. It was exclusively black until 1940 when it was opened to all races. In addition to King and Du Bois, the fraternity boasts Thurgood Marshall, Pennsylvania Congressman Chaka Fattah and many other notable members.

Contact reporter David Larter at david.larter@richmond.edu

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