College fraternities within the African-American community have long been regarded as sources of support, friendship and business networking. Now that source of influence is going global. Several days ago the world's oldest intercollegiate fraternity founded by African American men, Alpha Phi Alpha, established its first chapter in South Africa by chartering the Rho Phi Lambda Chapter in Johannesburg.
Held during the Kenneth Harlan Simmons Memorial Charity Dinner, the event included members of the fraternity's board of directors, dignitaries and more than 200 others amidst much ceremony. "This is just the first of many steps Alpha is taking, now and in the near future, to keep the organization growing across the world," explained Alpha General President Herman "Skip" Mason, Jr. who also presided over the ceremony.
"We are excited about establishing the first chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha on the African continent in the 21st century," said Michael Sudarkasa, chapter president and a Harvard University-trained lawyer initiated at the University of Michigan. "In South Africa, we see a number of areas that we can contribute to the community and will work to support initiatives in the fields of education, economic development, health and housing as our organization is already active in these areas in the U.S.," said Sudarkasa. In fact, the new chapter has already provided contributions to two charities in the region: the African Leadership Academy, which hosted the program and the Teboho Trust, a nonprofit organization that provides African children with educational and life skills support.
According to Monique Myles Carswell, president/chief strategy officer of Myles Ahead Consulting and marketing consultant with expertise in South Africa, this move should be a very significant event in the region on an even larger scale. She explains, "When I [was] in Durban, they had both larger-than-life perceptions and stereotypical misconceptions about Black Americans due to a lack of personal contact and quality interactions with us. I also observed that the majority of the prevailing social class had vested little interest in uplifting the oppressed. They'd rather turn a blind eye to the issues. Alpha Phi Alpha will surely pick up the slack in that area, as their motto leans to." Carswell continues, "By inviting native South Africans to become a part of such a rich fraternal structure, this will have a positive impact on the way Americans view Africans and vice versa. To have a tie that binds both peoples through over a century of history and tradition will give us a deeper understanding and appreciation of one another that will carry over well into future generations."
The new Johannesburg chapter's 13 charter members initially includes men who relocated from America to South Africa, however, the fraternity aims to expand by inviting native South Africans to join the fraternity through the Rho Phi Lambda chapter. Founded in 1906, the fraternity has been at the forefront of the African-American community's fight for civil rights through Alpha men such as Martin Luther King Jr., Adam Clayton Powell, Thurgood Marshall, Paul Robeson, Andrew Young, Edward Brooke and Cornel West. Currently, the organization has more than 600 college and alumni chapters.
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