Happy Founders Day to Phi Beta Sigma Men Everywhere!

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Congratulations to the Brothers of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc. in celebration of the Fraternity’s 94th Anniversary.

Some of the most remarkable leadership in the community in the 20th century, without question, came from the ranks of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc. Since the Fraternity’s founding on January 9, 1914, at Howard University in Washington, DC, it has supplied an empowering voice and vision to the struggle of people of color around the world.

The idea behind a fourth historical African American fraternity came during the fall of 1913 when three outstanding young men, with the idea of creating yet another fraternity on the campus of Howard University, forged plans to bring Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity to fruition. While still in his native Tennessee, Abram Langston Taylor first came up with the idea of creating a different kind of fraternity. After confiding in his friend and former roommate, Leonard Francis Morse on his idea of a different kind of fraternity, the two sought out the support of their friend and final member of the founding three, Charles Ignatius Brown.

The three, together, possessed a relentless drive to establish an organization that viewed itself as “a part of” the general community rather than “apart from” the general community. These extraordinary men wished deeply to create an organization that encouraged the highest standards of scholarship through scientific, literary, cultural and educational programs, promoted service projects on college campuses and in the community and fostered brotherhood. They wanted to organize a fraternity that would exist as a part of an even greater brotherhood, which would be devoted to the “inclusive we” rather than the “exclusive we”. In order to establish such an organization they realized it would be an obstacle to their advancement to embrace the exclusive tenets of established historical African American, Greek-letter fraternities. They believed that in order to establish a true brotherhood each potential member would have to be judged on his own merits rather than his family background or affluence, regardless of race, nationality, color, skin tone, or texture of hair.

While the three sped on their way towards founding a fraternity, nine other men of considerable distinction from Howard University were selected for membership. Finally on the night of January 9, 1914, Phi Beta Sigma was no longer just a wish; it officially became a fraternity. The next set of business for the charter members was to get recognition on campus for the new fraternity. This was achieved on April 15, 1914 when the Board of Deans officially granted them recognition. This marked Howard University’s first ever recognition of a historical African American fraternity. Soon after publishing the announcement for the newest Fraternity’s recognition, Sigma was overwhelmed with requests from Howard University men to pledge. Despite the flood of applicants, only 14 outstanding men were accepted into the realm of Sigma.

The men of Alpha Chapter of Phi Beta Sigma quickly established themselves as leaders on Howard University’s campus. Bro. Abraham McCartney Walker the first initiate of Phi Beta Sigma, became assistant editor of the Howard University Journal, while Co-Founder Bro. Abram Langston Taylor earned the position of Circulation Manager. Meanwhile, during the summer of 1914, Bro. Ivorite. L. Scruggs located a fraternity house for the men of Alpha Chapter.

Further testament to the rise of Sigma came in the November of 1915, when the general board of Phi Beta Sigma, in recognition of the Fraternity’s growth and influence received a proposal from Mr. Elder Watson Diggs, co-founder of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, for the two organizations to merge, which Phi Beta Sigma respectfully declined.

From its inception, the Fraternity’s Founding Fathers also conceived Phi Beta Sigma as a mechanism to deliver services to the general community. Rather than gaining skills to be utilized exclusively for themselves and their immediate families, they held the deep conviction that they should return their newly acquired skills to the communities from which they had come. This deep conviction was mirrored in the Fraternity motto, “Culture for Service and Service for Humanity”.

Shortly after the founding of Phi Beta Sigma, the Fraternity’s Founding Fathers said “what we have is good…but incomplete!” Although Phi Beta Sigma’s highly crystallized ideals meet and exceed the tools necessary to guide and support the general student population as well as make great Phi Beta Sigma men, it didn’t completely meet the unparalleled needs of women. They believed that in order for a true student-oriented organization to be at an ultimate height of greatness, the strengths of both men and women were needed.

Thus, a quest was deployed to create a true sisterhood, following similar principles as Phi Beta Sigma, but having its own womanly uniqueness. Bro. Charles Robert Taylor and Co-founder Bro. Abram Langston Taylor accepted this monumental task, and on January 16, 1920, five phenomenal women, Arizona Cleaver, Fannie Pettie, Myrtle Tyler, Pearl Neal and Viola Tyler, who chose not to embrace the exclusive tenets of established historical African American, Greek-letter sororities, were chosen, and founded Zeta Phi Beta Sorority on the campus of Howard University.

Zeta Phi Beta Sorority was founded, as the sister organization to Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity to encourage the highest standards of scholarship through scientific, literary, cultural and educational programs; to promote service projects on college campuses and in the community, to foster sisterhood and sisterly love; and to exemplify the ideal of finer womanhood. This deep conviction was mirrored in the sorority motto, “A Community Conscious, Action-Oriented Organization”.

Though often imitated, Phi Beta Sigma and Zeta Phi Beta still remain the first and only constitutionally bound brother-sister historical African American, Greek-letter organizations in existence.

As a service organization, Phi Beta Sigma has many programs. Through the Fraternity’s three National Programs, Bigger and Better Business, Social Action, and Education the Organizations has demonstrated unparalleled excellence and leadership, on delivering to the needs of today and tomorrow’s world. In fact, the national mentoring program of Phi Beta Sigma, the Sigma Beta Club, has helped to shape male children and youth worldwide.

The Fraternity’s focus in past social issues included being instrumental in establishing National and State Anti-Lynching legislation in the 1930’s and 40’s, the elimination of racial discrimination and segregation in federal, state, municipal and county employment in the 50’s and 60’s along with the abolition of Jim Crow Laws. Bro. Asa Phillip Randolph was a key factor and the mind behind the march on Washington during the 60’s civil right’s movement, as was Bro. Huey Percy Newton, Ph.D. in awakening the minds of people of color to rise up out of the plight of mental slavery. Another positive contribution of Phi Beta Sigma was its ad vocation and practice of equality for women throughout all levels of the organization and in society itself. This occurred at a time when most Nationalist organizations were demanding that the woman’s role be in the home and/or one step behind the man, and at a time when the whole country was going through a great debate on the woman’s liberation issue. Soror Clara Luper of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma in 1968, spearheaded a movement to integrate eating establishments resulting in such establishments agreeing to serve food to anyone desiring service.

In order to implement these and other programs, Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity works hand in hand with several other organizations. Such organizations include, but are not limited to: Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc., The National Pan Hellenic Council, Inc., the NAACP, the National Urban League, the United Negro College Fund, the March of Dimes, the American Red Cross, the American Cancer Society, the American Diabetes Association and the American Lung Association. Proactively, the Fraternity has also dedicated itself to training a new generation of leaders with national mentoring programs and partnerships designed to ensure the success of children and youth. It is this leadership development and community service training for young men and women, which have made the Fraternity among the most prestigious organizations of its kind.

Today, almost a century later, Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity continues its commitment to the community. Through Phi Beta Sigma’s Education Foundation, the Fraternity is able to award scholarship grants to outstanding students for the pursuit of higher education. This foundation is also able to encourage and participate in educational activities including research, which aids in the academic development of men and women and presents community programs and in the educational and/or vocational improvement of individual and of community living standards. Through the Phi Beta Sigma’s Federal Credit Union, the Fraternity is able to contribute financially into the community by building financial equity in underprivileged communities.

Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity has also blossomed into an international organization of phenomenal college and professional leaders that consistently strive to improve the human conditions both in its members and in the community. With the power, force and vigor of more than 125,000 dedicated men in more than 600 chapters across the United States, Africa, Europe, Asia, the Caribbean Islands and the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Fraternity continues to faithfully perpetuate growth and progress. It is able to do this by remaining dedicated to providing service to all of humanity.

Indeed, Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity was conceived on lofty and ambitious ideals. These ideals were ahead of their time. They defied the status quo of Black exclusionary elitism. As people of valor and truth, members of the Fraternity serve without prejudice, regard for self, or expectation for reward. They seek no accolades. They are the leaders, the innovators, and the visionaries. Others have always, and continue to follow in their path. Thus the Fraternity has no need to make people great, because great people constantly make the Fraternity.

The conviction of a Sigma Man is to uplift and serve with humility the common person as well as the uncommon person; the poor person as well as the rich person; and he will serve the person who lives meagerly at the bottom of the hill, as well as the person who lives abundantly at the top of it. His conviction is his code, and it is this code that he governs himself by. It is this code that makes brothers of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc. revered and so special.

On January 15th, 1981 I joined with tens of thousands of other men, worldwide as a member of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity. While I would go on to become a Scottish Rite Mason, and a Masonic Knight Templar, reaching the pinnacle of Fraternal Life… I have NEVER forgotten the lessons I learned, or the friendships and bonds I formed as a Sigma.

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