The illumination of brotherhood


By Sean Martin

Trying to join a fraternity is, well, interesting.

As soon as I confirmed a true interest in a particular organization, I wondered what the next steps would look like.

What do I say? How do I start? What will happen?

For the most part, my journey began pretty much ordinarily, yet what unfolded was nothing of the sort.

After my first open house, I started spending more time this summer with the alumni of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc. in the Capital District even though I knew nearly nothing about Alpha Phi Alpha.

I knew it was a historically Black fraternity.

I knew that some brothers who had just graduated had made an indelible impression on me and on the campus.

That was about it.

And although I knew practically nothing about what I was getting into, a brother who lived nearby took me under his wing and guided me in experiencing what the fraternity was all about.

He took me to a few events and picnics that served to provide under-resourced youth with the chance to broaden their educational horizons while participating in activities (e.g. Soap Box Derby Racing) that they may never have experienced without the intervention of these men.

I spent a large portion of the summer shadowing brothers and learning about their varying occupations.

Alumni worked in anything from governance, law, architectural design, property management, salesmanship and marketing to home design and renovation, as well as a slew of other progressive business ventures.

My original plan this summer was to leisurely work with ITS and play video games.

Yet there I was, out of nowhere, learning the ins and outs of real estate, education and politics.

I even had the privilege of partnering with one of the brothers to launch an innovative early-childhood learning center that he had been formulating and developing for three years.

Together, we came up with a strategic plan to launch this three-tiered company while putting my teaching interests and language talents to use.

While the alumni’s occupations and ventures were no doubt commendable and apparent, I took note of something else taking place.

From newly minted brothers to seasoned veterans who’ve been a part of Alpha Phi Alpha for over 60 years, they worked tirelessly at their jobs, started private businesses, spent their weekends either helping the community or working on special programs and all the while prioritized their families and their fraternity.

Regardless of when or how long they’d been involved, they joined the fraternity knowing full well that college was merely a first step, and when they entered the “real world” they would continue to wear their letters and colors proudly — both on their clothing and in their hearts.

This subtlety is precisely what made such an impression on me.

To actually witness these words materialize moved me in ways that I am still trying to fully comprehend.

I mean, what kind of people wake up at 4 a.m. every morning just to get a jump on the world?

What kinds of individuals make service to a cause greater than themselves their lifelong pursuits?

What kind of men who are busy managing careers and families take significant time out of their schedules to share with me (an inexperienced college student) life lessons? It began to click.

These men embodied the same set of values that exceptional men of the fraternity, such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Paul Robeson, John Johnson, Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., Andrew Young, Duke Ellington, Jessie Owens, Thurgood Marshall and W.E.B. Dubois, had built upon.

These men stood on the shoulders of giants.

So, I began to think, to stand on the shoulders of giants is to become a giant yourself.

But then the obvious will come to light, and you might ask me: “Why are you, a white person, joining a black fraternity? Isn’t that weird?”

Why is it?

To me, Alpha Phi Alpha just happens to be a historically black fraternity, and while the majority of members are black, there are whites, Hispanics, Latinos and people from Central and Southwestern Asia who belong to this fraternity and to the Pi Pi Chapter here at Union.

Certainly, there are people who give me strange looks, but it doesn’t matter.

What should matter is how much good you do and how hard you push yourself to improve your quality of life and the quality of life of those around you.

What matters is that these brothers are good men who lead tireless but fulfilling lifestyles, and strive to achieve success in all arenas, whether at home with their families, with their friends or at work.

These individuals encourage me to learn more every day, push me to never give up and teach me a variety of skills I never thought I’d learn.

Remember when I mentioned that I just wanted to work a simple a computer job and play video games over the summer?

Well, now I look at things slightly differently.

I see potential to accomplish goals in the limited 24 hours of a day, the potential to change lives in a fleeting lifetime.

I now better value the education I am receiving (for not everyone enjoys access to it) and strive to achieve A’s in all my classes.

I’m in the best shape of my life, I’ve become well rounded and privy and every interaction with the diverse spread of brothers of the chapter has made me a worldly individual — not to mention giving me a diverse network.

So while it might seem like hyperbole to many, although I’ve only known these men for maybe half a year, they’ve already changed my life for the better.

There are some who are unsure as to whether joining a fraternity is the right decision for them. Even more are unsure as to which one is the “right one.”

My only advice is to do your research, ask questions and operate with intent.

The odds are that you’ll find some interesting things maybe in some nontraditional places, the same way you’ll find light in a dark tunnel if you look hard enough for it.


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