Howard University is the mecca of Black Greek-lettered life in America. Several fraternities and sororities – some boasting up to 350,000 members worldwide – have roots at the Washington, D.C., school and have spawned a cauldron of African-American luminaries like activist/comedian Bill Cosby, lauded poet Zora Neale Hurston and actress Phylicia Rashad.
While these community service-based organizations have long been an integral part of the African-American experience, a paltry number of White college students and professionals have been initiated. Those White students who “cross the burning sands” into a Black Greek organization are inducted into an international framework connecting doctors, lawyers, educators and more.
They also become first-time minorities.
Chris McGriff, a Howard University alum, pondered the experience a White student may face when surrounded by a sea of bronze and ebony faces. His brainchild was FRAT: A New Musical, which explores the plight of a White Howard student as he attempts to join a Black fraternity.
“I was always intrigued by Greek life on campus when I was a student at Howard,” said McGriff, who has directed over 56 musicals and plays. “We decided it would be an interesting factor to look at our race through the eyes of another; to decipher stereotypes and misconceptions. We liked the idea of the reverse minority issue. It’s never been addressed before in theater arts.”
McGriff tapped Nkosi Sharpe, another Howard graduate and member of historically Black fraternity Iota Phi Theta, and Walt Disney Company singer Charles Coakley Jr. to mold the production into an irreverent, but insightful glimpse into the university’s Greek infrastructure.
Described as a cross between Spike Lee’s socio-political musical School Daze and ‘90s sitcom “A Different World,” the production is already garnering a tremendous buzz throughout the “HU” community and beyond. FRAT will be the first Howard production staged at the ninth annual Page to Stage Festival sponsored by the John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts in the District.
In addition to highlighting the Black college experience, Sharpe, the play’s writer, said he hopes the production will spawn discussion about macro social issues affecting the nation.
“We would like to think that it will open up the dialogue about the issues that we bring up in the play. We would like to show that even in the age of Obama, this is still not a post racial America,” said Sharpe. “We still have a long way to go. “
The staged reading of “FRAT” will take place at the John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts Page to Stage Festival on Sept. 5. For more information, visit: www.facebook.com/FRAT.ANewMusical.
AFRO staff writer Gregory Dale contributed to this report.