I’m stepping outside of my musical box to ask a question that’s been weighing heavy on my mind lately… Are the members of the “Divine Nine” ready and able to fight the 21st century civil rights battles? For my readers who may not be up on the slang, the term “Divine Nine” refers to the nine predominantly black fraternities and sororities of the National Pan-Hellenic Council – AΦA, AKA, ΚΑΨ, ΩΨΦ, ΔΣΘ, ΦΒΣ, ΖΦΒ, ΣΓΡ, ΙΦΘ. While skimming around the internet, I found a research article that addressed this question head on. It is titled, The Sons of Indiana: Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity and the Fight for Civil Rights By Gregory S. Parks & Wendy Marie Laybourn. As a member of Kappa Alpha Psi, this article especially hit home. Here is an exerpt…
“The common narrative about African Americans’ quest for social justice and civil rights during the twentieth century consists, largely, of men and women working through organizations to bring about change. The typical list of organizations includes, inter alia, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the National Urban League, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. What are almost never included in this list are African American collegiate-based fraternities. However, at the turn of the twentieth century, a small group of organizations emerged founded on personal excellence, the development and sustainment of fictive-kinship ties, and racial uplift.
These organizations immediately created highly functioning alumni chapters in cities across the United States. Members of these organizations, who were college graduates, could continue their work in actualizing their respective organizations’ ideals. One such organization, founded at Indiana University in 1911, was Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity. This Article explores the history of this fraternity’s, and its members’, involvement in African Americans’ quest for social justice and racial equality in the United States.” – The Sons of Indiana: Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity and the Fight for Civil Rights By Gregory S. Parks & Wendy Marie Laybourn, (2016)
The Article explored the history of ΚΑΨ’s, involvement in African Americans’ quest for social justice and racial equality in the United States. Just like ΚΑΨ, All of the Divine 9 organizations have been involved in the fight for civil rights, in some aspect, throughout the pages of history.
However, after reading this article, my mind immediately ran on one of today’s most famous defenders of civil rights, Colin Kaepernick. Kaepernick was a San Francisco 49ers quarterback who is currently a free agent. He played collegiate football at the University of Nevada, where he was named the Western Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Year twice and became the only player in NCAA Division I history to amass 10,000 passing yards and 4,000 rushing yards in a career. He has been in the news since he has refused to stand during the playing of the national anthem due to a silent protest of the killings of minorities, at traffic stops, by Police.
“This stand wasn’t for me. This is because I’m seeing things happen to people that don’t have a voice, people that don’t have a platform to talk and have their voices heard, and effect change. So I’m in the position where I can do that and I’m going to do that for people that can’t.” – Colin Kaepernick
When Colin Kaepernick stood up (or sat in his case) in protest of the innocent killing of unarmed black and brown men at the hands of police, I noticed a slight hesitation from the greek community to respond to his civil rights protest. It could have been because Kaepernick protested during the national anthem, a national song of pride and patriotism accepted by Americans for over a century as a symbol of our country’s most basic beliefs. I could understand if there were members of these organizations that stood on both “sides” of the issue. Or maybe there were other reasons? I’m not completely sure. Either way, Kaepernick gained attention for sitting during the National Anthem on August 26th 2016 it took about a year for his own fraternity, Kappa Alpha Psi, to respond on August 10th 2017 after it became apparent that he would be blackballed from the NFL because of his civil rights protest.
The response was politically “appropriate”. However, from reading the letter I could not determine what the fraternity’s position is on the issue. The tone of the letter was that of a mediator, but absent was the decisive positioning that the fraternity was asking of the commissioner. Does Kappa Alpha Psi support Colin Kaepernick’s decision to sit/kneel during the national anthem or not? Does Omega Psi Phi?… Does Alpha Kappa Alpha?… Do any of these organizations, or its members, stand against Kaepernick’s protest?… The Divine 9 has not presented a unifying message or response to any of the civil rights issues that have commanded the attention of the country. Rather for or against a particular issue, I believe the leadership role these national organizations enjoy, within the African – American community, require them to take a stand for something during times when moral leadership is so necessary.
This brings me to the point of this article. Where is the leadership? Over the course of the last century, or more, young African – American college students across the nation founded nine organizations that when faced with the racist policies of their time, attempted to change the hearts and minds of America to better serve all its citizens. The members of these organizations would go on and become the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement.
As white supremacists, emboldened by divisive political rhetoric, recently marched through the campus of The University of Virginia shouting hateful messages and causing the death of one protester, I wondered how that effected the thoughts of young minorities on that campus and college campuses across the country. I wondered, how did they feel coming face to face with racism in 2017? Before then, blatant racism was something they read about in social studies or history classes. How did that experience change their views of America? What happens next? If a reemergence of racism or racist policies is truly the civil rights issue of this century, then the organizations that lead the previous movement are currently absent.