BY CHRIS BARRETO
SC Staff Writer
Rasheed Ali Cromwell, the founder of the Harbor Institute and a member of Omega Psi Phi, delivered a presentation at East Stroudsburg University entitled “The Mis-education of the Black Greek Experience,” in which he informed the audience about the history behind the Black Greek fraternities and spoke out against unfair stereotypes among Black Greek organizations, and encouraged students to learn more about them.
Mr. Cromwell summarized the history behind the original founding of the world’s first Black Greek fraternity, Sigma Psi Phi. Created in 1904, the creators of Sigma Psi Phi once worked within Greek organizations as workers.
The original founders created their own fraternity when they were rejected due to race. The creation of a Black Greek organization would inspire other Black fraternity workers to make their own fraternities as well.
According to Mr. Cromwell, the beliefs that were taught to the fraternity members would help inspire Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to fight for equality, and it is through Mr. King’s work that we are able to have a Black president and other nationalities in government positions.
During the presentation, Mr. Cromwell talked about several commonly mistaken beliefs about Black Greek life. He referenced “Stomp the Yard,” a movie that came out in early 2007 that focused on step-dancing and Black Greek fraternities, and told the audience that although step-dancing is something that is done in Black Greek fraternities, the movie was not an accurate portrayal of such an organization.
According to Mr. Cromwell, there is generally a unity between fraternities and a set of teachings that the movie ignored. Another mistaken belief, one aimed directly at current members, is that many assume that the calls, hand signs and step dancing are all a part of Black Greek tradition.
To emphasize his point, he related an experience that he had with his father, when he witnessed what he believed was a break in tradition by his father among fraternity members. His father had worn three pieces of lettered apparel to an outing, which, according to Mr. Cromwell, is frowned upon in today’s fraternities.
When Mr. Cromwell approached his father on the issue, his father had pointed out that these were oft repeated practices that developed over time and that were not practiced when the first fraternities were created, but have become “traditional” to a later generation.
On a similar note, he reminded the audience not to always believe the common stereotypes that certain fraternities have developed over time.
“Omega Psi Phi members are often stereotyped as these big dudes that always take up half the room. But I am from Omega Psi Phi, and I’m not a big dude,” Mr. Cromwell said, pointing at his own slim appearance. “It wasn’t the appearance that defined us, it was the beliefs that we shared.”
He acknowledged that many of those in attendance were members of fraternities. However, he welcomed those who were not a part of a fraternity and encouraged them to learn more about what they had heard in his presentation.
He urged those who were already members to promote Black Greek organizations, and to avoid the feeling of “exclusivity” among those who are not members by befriending and interacting with non-members as frequently as possible.
He ended his presentation by asking the audience to consider what they are leaving behind for the future. When approached after his speech, Mr. Cromwell commented, “I enjoy being here. I enjoyed the students and the energy that they brought with them to this meeting. I’d encourage students to learn more about the fraternities that are available to them.”
The event, which was sponsored by the African American Heritage Committee, was held in honor of African-American Heritage Month.
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