By Charles Hallman
Leadership and community service were among the themes of the Omega Psi Phi Grand Conclave July 5-12 in downtown Minneapolis.
It was the first time the legacy Black fraternal organization, founded in 1911 at Howard University in Washington, D.C., held their annual national gathering, which is composed of over 700 chapters, in the Twin Cities.
“We are a collective body of men who strive for higher ideals, and we want to impart on the community here that those ideals exist in reality,” explained Craig Armstead of Chicago, an Omega member since 1986. “The Omega Psi Phi fraternity is an uplifting body of men who want to pass the higher values along to the community.”
These values include brotherhood, spirituality, education, family and good health: “We are not just about wearing purple and gold… We’re about some real things in this world,” Armstead pointed out.
James Bohanon of Chicago added that it was an opportunity to show Black men in this area that “other Black men can come together and provide a positive image for the community.”
“I’m happy to bring our core values” to North Minneapolis, said Devin Cromwell of St. Louis, Missouri, who was a first-time visitor to Minneapolis.
“Sometimes our young people believe
there are no options,but there are options.
It doesn’t have to end in the streets.
It could end in the White House.”
“I’m very impressed that Omega Psi Phi would choose Minneapolis for their convention…[and] their focus on mentoring young Black males,” Shiloh Temple Bishop Richard Howell told the MSR at North Commons Park, where the Omegas held a July 7 free outdoor event for the public.
“We didn’t want to just spend money downtown, but we came to the community so that young people can see Omega men and get a chance to ask questions. We wanted to show a level of support for the community, especially in North Minneapolis,” explained James Burroughs, a member of the fraternity and Minneapolis Public Schools equity director. He added that at least 25 Black men were signed up to be mentors.
“We didn’t expect 100 people to sign up, but 25 are good enough. We wanted to make sure that they had an opportunity to learn about mentoring and what it is,” added Burroughs.
“I think the Omegas really set the stage in what it takes to do community collaborations and bringing people together for the betterment of our families, and most importantly, African American male mentorship,” said YMCA head Henry Crosby.
The timing of it, especially after the funeral of five-year-old Nizzel George, who died on June 26, was “a divine appointment,” said Howell of the event. “I think what the Omega did was lit a fire” under many local Black youth, including his nephew Andrew, a senior this fall at Robbinsdale Cooper, who was among the hundred or so Black males who attended the group’s two-day youth leadership conference at the University of Minnesota.
“I think it went well,” reported Keith Pemberton of High Point, N.C., a presenter at the Omega Youth Leadership Conference that included workshops and community service. He said the conference, usually held at a Historically Black College, was held for the first time on a predominately White college campus.
Pemberton wants all young Black men “to be great leaders, fully prepared.”
“We focused on those young men on options, job benefits, attitude, education… All those things make a difference,” said Omega Grand Basileus Andrew Ray. “Sometimes our young people believe there are no options, but there are options. It doesn’t have to end in the streets. It could end in the White House,” he added, as he referred to President Barack Obama, who he called an ideal role model for Black men. “These young men are our future.”
Many visiting Omegas also were aware of the recent violence on the North Side, including young Nizzel George’s death.
“We resolved that no more men in the Black community would be lost,” pledged Kevin Baker, a senior environmental specialist from Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas.
“I think we are facing a harsh summer — it is an epidemic,” admitted Howell. “The only thing young men know is violence — not all, but many. They don’t know how to negotiate, lack confidence and resolution skills. As a result of that, the only thing they know how to do is kill. The only thing these young men know is violence.”
A community partnership is needed “to find the right answers” to solving the problem, said Howell. “This is a public health problem. We need to address this right away.”
“I’m committed to doing this again,” concluded Burroughs after the North Commons event. “It doesn’t have to be an Omega [-sponsored] event, but to have something like this every year.”
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to [email protected]