Merlene Davis: UK's Omega Psi Phi's are reason to pledge Greek

Herald-Leader columnistNovember 14, 2012 

  • If you go

    Dedication of Omega Psi Phi chapter at University of Kentucky

    When: 4 p.m., Saturday.

    Where: Behind the UK Student Center.

    Information: Email drbishop3@windstream.net or go to the Omega's district website, Omega5d.us.

I didn't pledge a sorority when I was in college mainly because I don't really like to join social groups and because I'm cheap. During college, I had very little money to spend on anything other than the necessities.

Many of my friends back then did pledge, and that was fine, but I never really connected with the concept or culture of the Greek organizations.

So I was a bit torn when the Rev. Bishop E. Carter III called this week excitedly telling me about a commemorative stone that would be dedicated this weekend in honor of Omega Psi Phi, the fraternity he helped establish years ago at the University of Kentucky.

Carter is my age. Even if he needed the fraternity when he was younger, shouldn't he have outgrown it by now? Why was he still involved with it and still excited about it?

There were two black Greek fraternities at UK when Carter and I were students in the late 1960s and early 1970s, but neither appealed to him.

He had heard about the Omegas from men he looked up to in the community, including his pastor, the Rev. Homer Eckler Nutter; long-time educator Gentry LaRue, who was Carter's science teacher; and former Urban County Councilman Robert Jefferson.

Other local mentors included teachers, coaches and William S. Dotson, a local insurance agent who led the local chapter of the NAACP.

"The influence these brothers had on me encouraged me to want to be an Omega man from the age of 12," Carter said.

On the national front, Omega men included comedian Bill Cosby, historian Carter G. Woodson, and Dr. Charles Drew, who developed ways to process and store blood plasma in blood banks.

LaRue, who retired from Fayette County Public Schools in 1999 after serving as teacher, principal and administrator in the Central Office, said the attraction for most Omegas was a desire to excel.

"We were pretty much wanting to be the more academic organization," he said. "The Alphas (Alpha Phi Alpha) may have been smarter overall, but we stood our ground."

Academics were important to Jefferson as well, but the main attraction for him was the organization's focus on public service. He served six terms as 2nd District councilman.

Jefferson pledged in 1955 and then worked at the fraternity's district level to establish chapters on the predominantly white college campuses in Kentucky. First was Western Kentucky University, followed by Eastern Kentucky University and then UK in 1980.

To get the chapter started, Carter and 11 other black men agreed to pledge the fraternity, which was an 11-month process. On November 10, 1973, only two students were inducted: Carter and Carey Anthony Mason, both sophomores.

The support and exposure Carter received from his fraternity brothers cleared a lot of hurdles in his career.

"In 1995, in Charlotte, N.C., I spoke on stage before 15,000 people right before Bill Clinton spoke," Carter said. "I would never have gotten to do that without Omega help. It was a blessing."

The men in his life watched him, he said, and supported him when he needed it the most. And now, because he has remained active with the fraternity, Carter recently gave $4,000 in scholarships to four college students.

"They didn't know anything about it," he said. "I had just observed them and knew they needed some help."

This weekend, the Omegas will celebrate the founding of the national organization, which was established on Nov. 17, 1911, along with the UK chapter.

A service will be held to dedicate a commemorative stone marking the founding of the UK chapter 23 years ago and acknowledgement of the first inductees 30 years ago.

If fraternity and sorority members are accountable to one another and supportive of a younger generation that needs role models, then may they continue to thrive.

Generally, LaRue said, Omegas are about the fraternity's four cardinal principles: "manhood, scholarship, perseverance and uplift." The Omegas in this community were mentors to those who followed their lead.

"They were people you could look up to," LaRue said. "A lot of young people don't have that any more, and it is a shame, too."

Because of that, I will give them their due.

Merlene Davis: (859) 231-3218. Email: mdavis1@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @reportmerle. Blog: Merlenedavis.bloginky.com.

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