When thousands of black men wake up today, many will reflect on the year 1911, when ten young African-American men on the Indiana University campus formed an organization which would not only help them survive as students in a racist society, but in the decades following, would help other men fulfill their full potential through the ideal of brotherhood. The organization they formed one hundred years ago was Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc., and today, thousands of Kappa men are making an impact in every aspect of society.
“When our ten founders, led by Elder Watson Diggs, a student at Indiana University at Bloomington Indiana, sat down to reflect on the lack of opportunities they had at that Midwestern university, they [understood] firsthand what the vestiges of slavery and segregation had done to Africa-American students,” said Kappa Alpha Psi president Dwayne Murray. “Two of the founders had attended Howard University before going to Indiana University, and had witnessed the founding of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity and Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority. Armed with this experience, Elder Diggs introduced the idea of forming an organization similar to these.”
And thus Kappa Alpha Psi was formed, or more historically correct, Kappa Alpha Nu. Originally, the ten founders of Kappa had named their new fraternity, Kappa Alpha Nu, but racists on the Indiana campus soon derided the fraternity by calling it Kappa Alpha “N-Word”. So the founders then decided to change the fraternity name to Kappa Alpha Psi.
African-American fraternalism began to crystallize in the early 20th century with the founding of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity at Cornell University in 1906. In less than twenty years after the founding of Alpha, eight black fraternities and sororities would be founded (the ninth black fraternal organization would be founded in the early 1960s). These fraternal organizations were popular among black students because they not only provided essential support on their campuses, but the concept of brotherhood and sisterhood that meant the collective strength of a fraternal bond could be used to help create change the lives of individual members, and in society in general.
After its founding, Kappa Alpha Psi quickly spread from the Indiana University campus to over three hundred college campuses, along with hundreds of alumni chapters in cities and towns throughout the United States, Europe and Asia. This network has made Kappa Alpha Psi a potent force when it comes to working as a community service organization.
“We measure achievement by the unprecedented service of our members, as well as the corporate community outreach programs of the fraternity,” said Murray. “We have initiated more than 150,000 members since our founding, both in undergraduate schools and at the alumni level.”
That service has been seen through the Kappa Alpha Psi national program, Guide Right, which uses a number of outreach programs to make a difference in the lives of young men and women. One program under Guide Right is the Kappa League, which helps young men develop critical thinking and leadership skills. And currently, Kappa Alpha Psi is applying for a $250,000 grant from Pepsi Cola in order to fund their Kappa Kamp project, a summer enrichment camp for students at the famous Piney Woods boarding school in Mississippi.
“We will continue maintain and increase our corporate partnerships that enable our programs to grow because of their financial support. We will continue to enhance our relationships with the political leaders of our nation, establishing and growing our brand, making us a major player in the fabric of national policy making,” said Murray.
Kappa Alpha Psi achievement has also been seen in the work of their most outstanding members. From former Los Angeles mayor Tom Bradley, NBA Hall of Famer Wilt Chamberlain, comedian Cedric the Entertainer, Wimbledon tennis champion Arthur Ashe, to long time Michigan congressman John Conyers, Kappa men have excelled in every field and occupation.
But Kappa Alpha Psi is not without its issues. The hazing of new members has long been a problem, as it has been with all nine black fraternal organizations. Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been diverted to settling hazing lawsuit cases, and some members have served jail terms for hazing abuse. But as the national organization struggles to come up with a pledge process that is safe, and Murray acknowledges that no organization is perfect, he is clear that he thinks the founders of Kappa Alpha Psi would be proud of the fraternity they founded if they could see it today.
“Our founders would be proud that we organized and maintain alumni chapters that enable the organization to expand its service to more people. They would be proud that we have partnered with Corporate America. They would be proud that we have moved our social and political activities from the local university to the White House and national and international service. They would also be proud that we have founded chapters beyond the geographical perimeters of America. Included among our service is our partnership with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, where we have raised more than one million dollars through our “Sunday of Hope Program,” a program that solicits churches to raise a single offering with proceeds going to the hospital.”
And so where does Murray see Kappa Alpha Psi one hundred years from today?
“In 2111 Kappa Alpha Psi will have expanded its student base to include more ethnic members as well as new chapters on campuses where Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity has not had its presence,” Murray concludes.
“We will have increased the numbers of members who have gained prominence in every field of human endeavor. We will have made a significant impact on the communities we serve. We will have increased the numbers of blood relatives who, through our legacy initiative, will find it in their vested interest to become members of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity.”
Today, thousands of Kappa men dressed in their fraternal colors of crimson and cream will be thinking not just about their founding, but also about how they’ll go forward. For Kappa, like all black fraternal organizations, the only way to continue to be relevant is to honor the past while constantly striving to move Kappa Alpha Psi forward. If they can do that, then Kappa Alpha Psi will continue to do great works well into the 21st century.