|By Stewart, Pearl|
While many Black Greek organizations celebrate centennials, criticism grows of their relevance.
The nation's historically Black Greek letter organizations (BGLOs), collectively referred to as the "Divine Nine," have played an integral part in American history Since each organization's founding throughout the 20th century, Black fraternities and sororities have not only provided African-Americans with a community to support one another, they have also made notable contributions to society, particularly in the areas of civil rights, social welfare and politics.
The list of trailblazing African-Americans who have hailed from BGLOs spans the spectrum of American life, ranging from labor leader
Today, the combined membership of these organizations exceeds one million. With such longevity, these groups are among the oldest Black institutions in the country. In the past eight years, several BGLOs have marked or passed a celebratory milestone - their 100th anniversary. On
Despite the accomplishments of BGLOs throughout their widespread histories, they are attracting a growing number of critics in academia and media, including some from within their own ranks, who question their relevance and adherence to their founding principles.
Parks is currently researching the political activism of Black sororities and fraternities in the early 20th century. "BGLOs have a remarkable history in ... racial uplift activism," he says. As an example, he cites the
Parks adds that the organizations need to confront 21st century social and political issues. "The biggest thirdrail issue of Black fraternities is gay membership," he says. "From the research that I and my colleagues have done, anxieties over gay membership impact hazing, whether some brothers want to remain active and how the organizations impact communities."
The BGLOs continue to describe their purpose as primarily service-oriented. For example, Kappa Alpha Psi's website promotes its
Delta Sigma Theta has a "social action center" that outlines the organization's mobilization efforts and policy positions on issues including preventing gun violence and domestic abuse and support for health care reform.
It is initiatives such as these that keep professor
But critics of BGLOs say most of them are not doing their best to confront the problems facing Black communities, particularly health, education and crime. One of the strongest critics, Dr.
Last fall, former
Johnson, a member of Omega Psi Phi, tells Diverse he wrote the article because "we're at a point in history when there are probably more Black men in senior government positions of power than there have ever been - the president, the attorney general, the secretary of homeland security - and none of them joined any Black fraternities, so I started wondering why that is. If this had been 15 years ago, there's no doubt in my mind that all of these men would have been in Black fraternities."
There are, though, numerous local initiatives and current elected officials with BGLO membership, including U.S. Representatives
BGLO defenders also say the organizations have enforced strong sanctions against hazing by suspending and fining chapters in violation of the policies.
But, too often, critics say, news about Black fraternities is negative, mainly because of hazing. For example,
Johnson says the importance of BGLOs has waned, not only because of hazing activities, but because most groups are no longer addressing the needs of their communities with the vigor they had in the past.
However, he believes it's not too late for greater progress. "I don't think these organizations are close to being extinct at all," Johnson contends. "There will always be a substantial segment of members who live up to the principles they espouse - and if the organizations stay true to those principles, they will return to the national prominence they once had."
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