Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity will kick off its 100-year celebrations on Jan. 11 with a Centennial Founders’ Day Gala, during which renowned humanitarian and civil rights activist Harry Belafonte will be the keynote speaker.

The gala, slated to take place at the Renaissance Hotel Downtown in the nation’s capital, comes ahead of the fraternity’s five-day Centennial Celebration, which will also be held in Washington, D.C. from July 16 to July 20.

Under the banner “Stony the Road, We Trod,” the Gala will honor seven African Americans who have distinguished themselves in philanthropic and civil rights work. The honorees include the Rev. Dr. Joseph Lowery, former chairman of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference; the Rev. C.T. Vivian, Freedom Rider and former president of the SCLC; the Rev. Al Sharpton, founder and president of National Action Network and honorary member of Phi Beta Sigma; Edolphus Towns, former U.S. congressman representing Brooklyn, N.Y. and a Phi Beta Sigma member; Clayola Brown, president of the A. Philip Randolph Institute; Hank Thomas, an original Freedom Rider and Mrs. Elizabeth Williams-Omilami, daughter of Phi Beta Sigma member Hosea Williams and president of Hosea Feed the Hungry.

“I am blessed to be serving as Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc.’s international president at this time in our history,” Jonathan A. Mason Sr., the fraternity’s 34th international president, said in a statement. “I am most honored with the opportunity to present our distinguished and well-deserved honorees their awards on behalf of our organization.”

Former President Bill Clinton, an honorary member of Phi Beta Sigma, will provide a “special video greeting,” but Belafonte will undoubtedly be the star of the evening. A gifted, sometimes controversial speaker, Belafonte has knocked down barriers in the world of entertainment. The singer and actor is best known for popularizing “The Banana Boat Song” (“Day-O”) and for becoming the first African-American to win an Emmy.

The NAACP Spingarn Award winner parlayed his popularity into many civil rights and humanitarian causes over the years. During the Civil Rights Movement he helped support Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his family, financed or helped raise money to bail out protestors, helped fund the Freedom Rides and assisted in organizing voter registration drives and the 1963 March on Washington.

Belafonte was also a notable force in the movement to end apartheid in South Africa and free his friend Nelson Mandela after more than 27 years in prison.
In 1987, Belafonte became the second American to be appointed a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, and in recent years he has continued to devote his time, voice and resources to civil and human rights issues across the globe.

A live Web stream of Belafonte’s keynote address will begin at 9 p.m. EST, and the entire Gala proceedings will be simulcast to six regional galas in Chicago, Ill.; Memphis, Tenn.; Fort Worth, Texas; Greensboro, N.C.; Orlando, Fla.; and Los Angeles, Calif.

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Zenitha Prince

Special to the AFRO