The year was 1962. Not afraid to buck the system and agitate the authority figures in their lives, fourteen college students came together for the purpose of promoting academics, ethical soundness, and the bonds of brotherhood between Black men.
They called themselves Groove Phi Groove Social Fellowship.
And though many would refuse to recognize them at their start, few can ignore the accomplishments that have come from what began that year on Oct. 12.
Five decades later, those same men, and hundreds of the thousands that have come after them, now prepare to converge on their fraternity’s birthplace, Morgan State University, then Morgan State College, to celebrate and give back to the community that helped shape their founding.
Thirteen of the 14 men are still living and some of them will admit they never could have imagined seeing fifty years.
“We had no idea in 1962 that something like this would develop and go on 50 years,” said Barry H. Hampton, one of the co-founders from New Jersey.
The men came up with the name of the organization from a combination of definitions for the word “groove,” which was a slang term among young Black men and women at the time to describe a smooth vibe or a good time.
With Webster’s Dictionary defining the noun “groove” as “a fixed routine in the affairs of life,” the founders decided they would be the group to go against the norms of society- and they would do it with the upmost pride.
“In every society it is essential to have people who aren’t going to be told what to do and just do it,” said Victor P. Henderson, current national president of Groove, explaining what type of man is usually interested in the organization.
Henderson said that much like the first line of Grooves, the men who pledge today aren’t men just accept what comes to them.
“We tend to attract college educated men who are more inclined to go against the grain and less inclined to accept authority and the status quo,” said Henderson.
Like many Morgan students of the day, the Grooves were a part of the civil rights movement and the racial advancements being made in Baltimore and in surrounding neighborhoods near the campus.
Hampton vividly remembers integrating the neighborhood surrounding Morgan State College when he and four other Grooves moved into a house on Edgecombe Circle.
The men of Groove were very prevalent and popular leaders throughout campus life- not just activists.
“Jimmy Hill and David Nesbit were basketball stars, Harry Payne was a wrestler, and I had a singing group,” said Hampton. “Raymond Clarke and myself won all the talent shows on the campus.”
Though they were successful, the Grooves were always met with hesitation from the student body, something the men say made them stronger.
“The organization was not welcomed at Morgan when we were founded,” Henderson. “We had a lot of naysayers in terms of our arrival so the fact that we have managed to not only survive, but prosper over the years, makes the occasion all the more special.”
The founders said that because they didn’t have three Greek letters in their name and because they went against social norms, many traditional organizations were slow to recognize them. With the exception of the Alpha Delta Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., the founders were not respected by many of the historic black fraternities and sororities.
Campus officials weren’t too fond of them either, Hampton said recalling –but not telling –an antic that landed him and others in the dean’s office.
It didn’t take them long before the first Grooves, know as “The 14 Pearls,” soon discovered they wanted more than just a Baltimore-based Groove. They learned the process of starting new chapters of their organization on other college and university campuses and then hit the road on a mission to become national.
“It just took off. It went to Delaware State and then on and on and on,” said co-founder Nathaniel Parham, who remembers the initial growing pains of the Groove.
From Delaware the Grooves moved through Virginia to North Carolina. They began chapters all along the way at institutions such as North Carolina Central University and Johnson C. Smith. In South Carolina they recruited at Allen University, Benedict College, Claflin College, and South Carolina State University.
The journey continued, much as it still does today, with a total of 135 chapters across the country. Noted members of the organization include former Maryland House of Delegates member Clarence Davis (D), and Douglas Palmer, former mayor of Trenton, N.J.
Hampton said that Groove has improved over time as the men matured and their professions sharpened their leadership and organization skills. The men in turn brought these abilities back to their brothers, and in turn set high standards for the men interested in Groove today.
The fellowship will return to Baltimore for the 50th Anniversary Conclave and Delegates meeting, Oct.10- 14, at the Baltimore Hunt Valley Inn. Official business will be conducted along with celebrations of the anniversary and the legacy carried on today.
An itinerary of the weekend includes activities hosted by sister organization, Swing Phi Swing, a night of comedy, and a youth summit.
The Founder’s Golf Tournament is planned for Friday, and on Saturday Grooves young and old are expected to be in their signature black and white and taking part in the Morgan State University homecoming celebration.
Win, lose, or tie, a cruise ship of Grooves will pull off half an hour before midnight, concluding their anniversary in party mode on the water.
“We will be gathering to celebrate the fact that the organization is still surviving and prospering, but more importantly, our mission is to give our time and energies to the people of the community- especially the young Black men,” said Henderson.
A scholarship donation in the amount of $50,000 will be awarded to the institution as part of this year’s conclave that has a theme of “Celebrating the Past…While Charting the Future.”
The money will be the first to be deposited into the Groove Fund, which will be used solely to further the education of African American men at the university.
“It’s less about who we are and more about what we do for others,” said Henderson, speaking about the endowment, and other initiates by Groove to serve the community.
Careful not to leave out the ladies, the Grooves recently even took on breast cancer. With October being Breast Cancer Awareness month, Groove Phi Cares, a side program of the organization, hopes to spread awareness and provide funding for the cancer research that could affected many of the wives, daughters, and mothers of Groove men.
The founders say that they believe that as long as the mission is bigger than the individual, their group of roughly 40,000 members will continue to thrive.
“Long after I’m gone I hope that the organization will continue to be in existence and take its’ place among the many service organizations from around the world,” said Parham.