Fraternity plans action on male issues

Alpha Phi Alpha, Inc., the nation’s largest black fraternity, is developing a national strategic plan aimed at addressing such problems as the low numbers of black males majoring in education and black men’s disproportionate health issues. “We want to make discussions on healthcare as common as dapping someone up” said Mitchelle Artis, alumnus of the Alpha Phi Alpha chapter at Hampton University, speaking of the fraternity handshake.

More than 10,000 Alphas met in Washington this summer for a symposium and “town meeting” on the state of African-American men, part of a five-day centennial convention. The symposium was designed to define goals for black male advancement in health, wealth and innovation, and to develop black men personally, emotionally and spiritually. Plans developed from the discussion were to help create the “African-American jubilee century.”

“As Alphas, we have to contextualize this making black men and boys our worst enemy,” said Bobby Austin, vice president for university relations and communications at the University of the District of Columbia, and the convention’s operational chair. Austin explained that the deficits of African-American men were already known. But instead of dwelling on them, he said he wanted to get people speaking about solutions and positive endeavors for black men.

As the men broke into smaller groups to discuss possible plans for their campuses, Everett Ward, vice president of the Southern region, asked, “What can we do as Alpha men to impact the change that’s needed to happen at the local level?” The responses included a scholarship program geared toward black men majoring in education. One concern was that not enough black male students have teachers who look like them. An analysis of data from the National Center for Education Statistics shows one black male teacher for every 63 black male students in public schools, compared with one white male teacher for every 21 white male students. If more blacks were teaching, more black men and boys would be graduating, some said.

The low percentage of graduation rates of black males on the high school and college levels was another concern. Young black males are less likely to have completed college degrees than other 25- to 29-year-olds. In 2004, 16 percent of black males had completed an associate’s degree or higher, compared with 37 percent for all 25- to 29-year olds. Thirty percent of black males, compared with 20 percent all 25- to 29-year-olds, had attended some college but had not completed a degree, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Ward said young black men adopt their outlook toward education as early as the third and fourth grade. “As college men, we should increase our activity with young black males,” he said. Ward said he wanted Alphas to urge these children to pursue a college education.

Other suggestions at the July 27-28 symposium included programs to educate black men about high blood pressure, high cholesterol and cancer, bringing the information to barbershops and churches; and publicizing the availability of medical help in nearby community healthcare centers.

Artis, an alumnus of the Alpha Phi Alpha chapter at Hampton University, said it was important to involve the campus chapters in these activities because college students are closer to young boys than members in alumni chapters.

An official list of initiatives and plans is to be developed and presented by each region to Austin in two to three months. Final plans submitted from each region will become part of a national strategic plan, Ward said. The initiatives are to become new “action items” for the organization’s 688 chapters, six of which are international.

Alpha Phi Alpha has close to 200,000 members. They have included such leaders as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., scholar and activist W.E.B. DuBois, Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, and scholar and author Cornel West.

Among its charitable and service projects are “Go to High School, Go to College,” a program that teaches the importance of secondary and collegiate education, and “A Voteless People, Is a Hopeless People,” created to educate blacks about voting and to register them.