On May 21, several local chapters of Black fraternities made the trek to Cheltenham Youth Facility in southern Prince George’s County to speak with the young men about becoming better men.
“A lot of these young men definitely come from families where no one had gone to college, so we wanted to introduce them to some men who’d done that,” said Frank Malone, community service chairman of the Pi Upsilon Lambda chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha. “We have lawyers, doctors, masters of divinity and just a wide range of people to talk to the kids.”
The event was Malone’s brainchild. He said that his chapter had visited the facility previously and wanted to do something bigger.
“We’d been out here three times before and we reached out to the other frats to see if they wanted to do an event with us,” Malone said. “All of the frats wanted to do it.”
Members of local chapters of Kappa Alpha Psi, Omega Psi Phi, Phi Beta Sigma, Iota Phi Theta and Groove Phi Groove started meeting in February to plan the event. Then, on a sunny day in Cheltenham, the men met a group of juvenile offenders who needed the help.
The members broke up into six different groups with different age groups of youth to discuss topics such as conflict resolution, self esteem, sexually transmitted diseases, respecting women and leadership. At the end, there was a free-flowing wrap-up session where speakers gave testimonies about their own life experience.
Perhaps the most poignant testimony came from WPGC 95.5 on-air personality Aaron “Herkules” Graves. Graves, who graduated from nearby Gwynn Park High School, spoke of his trials and tribulations growing up, including his run-ins with street life, surviving brain cancer and his father doubting his career choice.
“I was excited. I had my first offer to work in Virginia Beach and I went to tell my parents. Do you know what my father said?” the now cancer-free Graves asked rhetorically. “He told me I was making the biggest mistake of my life.”
For a while Graves too thought he’d made a mistake as he spoke of how he was on the radio and still broke. He decided to ask a friend to help him make some easy money, but that friend warned him against it.
Graves took that friend’s advice and kept working and now he said his dad is his biggest fan. “My dad calls me ‘Herk’ now,” Graves said. “He tells everyone ‘My son Herk is on WPGC.’”
It’s unclear how receptive the kids were to the message. Many times they were rowdy and seemed preoccupied with other things. However, one thing for sure is that this will not be the last time the fraternities visit Cheltenham.
“This just has to be the start,” said Eric Hollins of Iota Phi Theta. “We have to keep coming back.”
Malone said he’s hoping to do the event in the future with even more frat members. He also wants to incorporate sororities and visit a detention facility for girls as well.