When Anthony Johnson first stepped foot on the University of Maryland College Park campus, he didn’t give much thought to joining a Greek fraternity, let alone one that was not even on the school’s campus at the time. Yet when word got to him that the 15-year suspension of Omega Psi Phi at UMD would be lifted, his interest in joining was piqued to say the least.
“I watched how different fraternities interacted with each other at different events, and their friendships seemed more genuine,” said Johnson, who ended up crossing in 2009, his senior year at UMD. “I had never thought about joining any other fraternity. I did my research and learned about the organization and its members, and I liked the outspoken nature of the fraternity as well—the brotherhood behind it all was also enticing.”
Johnson belongs to the Chi Delta chapter at UMD, one of hundreds of chapters that will converge on Washington D.C. during the week of July 27 through July 31 to be a part of Omega Psi Phi’s Centennial Celebration. The friendships and the brotherhood that Johnson spoke of are the core of the fraternity, and undoubtedly, an essential reason the fraternity has withstood the test of time.
The first international fraternal organization to be founded on the campus of a historically Black college, Omega Psi Phi was founded Nov. 17, 1911 at Howard University in Washington D.C. by three undergraduates there—Edgar Amos Love, Oscar James Cooper and Frank Coleman—and their faculty advisor, Dr. Ernest Everett Just. The motto of the fraternity comes from the initials of the Greek phrase meaning, “Friendship is essential to the soul,” and is the source of the fraternity’s name.
The cardinal principles of the organization are manhood, scholarship, perseverance, and uplift. Those principles are what got John “Tony” Berkley hooked. Berkley, the 2011 Second District Omega Man of the Year and a member of the Beta Kappa chapter, crossed as a sophomore in 1981 at Frostburg State College (now Frostburg State University).
“The most important thing for the fraternity is that for 100 years the fraternity has been supporting and training men of color to serve in their community and make contributions in their community,” Berkley said. “We train leaders.”
Members have gone on to become leaders in a variety of fields including the military, politics, athletics and the entertainment industry. Some of the more famous members include Jesse Jackson, Bill Cosby, Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal and Charles Drew.
The fraternity takes its goal of having members give back to their community very seriously. Chapters are obligated to administer certain programs each year, including social action programs aimed at uplifting society such as voter registrations, mentoring programs, various fundraisers and health initiatives.
Johnson said his chapter hosts a number of events, with the proceeds normally going to charities. They also schedule visits to detention centers. Members even did a step show at halftime of a basketball game in southeast D.C., an area notorious for violence.
“It was an opportunity to show the men in the neighborhood that there are other avenues you can take instead of going down the wrong path,” Johnson said of the step show. “It showed them that these are young Black men who are going to college and getting degrees, and they look just like you.”
There is also a talent hunt program that encourages the youth and young adults to expose themselves to the performing arts, with the winner receiving an award such as a scholarship. A similar talent hunt is scheduled to take place during the centennial celebration.
With over 700 chapters across the globe, the location of the celebration was also significant. With thousands of members from those chapters scheduled to attend, Kenneth Rodgers, the Second District representative, said he thinks the general public will be impressed by the spectacle.
“They’re going to see a group of African American men who stand for something more than themselves and who are doing things in their communities,” said Rodgers, a member of the Rho Mu chapter. “When they created this organization 100 years ago, they set aside some values that lived through the test of time. We have a foundation that is the epitome of what a man should be and what a fraternity should be—to uplift our community.”
Rodgers said he hopes current members will attend the celebration realizing that they are only here due to those who paved the way.
“I hope my brothers come with a lot of pride and love, recognizing that many of us are here because of the sweat of our forefathers’ backs,” he said. “I hope they give reverence and respect to the organization and re-convince themselves about what this fraternity is about.”
Berkley, who is also assisting with the military ball, does not think this will be an issue. The reverence he’s observed members display about the brotherhood left him speechless as an undergraduate, and still does so today.
“To be a member of this fraternity is a privilege, not a right,” he said. “To have done the things that I’ve done and to see the men in this organization do the things that they’ve done, it’s very humbling to be able to sit in a room with men who are presidents of companies and are millionaires…but to have that one thing in common and being able to share that is awesome.”