This week, Chicago attorney Victor P. Henderson will join about 5,000 fellow members of Groove Phi Groove [GPhiG] in Baltimore to celebrate its 50th anniversary.
Henderson, the national president, said he looks forward to the communion and marking five outstanding decades of outstanding service, brotherhood and achievement.
"The two most important things we're doing, generally and specifically, is giving time and money to young people, especially black men," said Henderson during an interview Monday night. "This is the core of what we're doing."
"It's not about us, it's about the community. Grooves are unlike members of other organizations because we're outsiders, the outsiders of the insiders. We made a conscious decision not to join mainstream groups. There's nothing more powerful than a black man who goes against the grain."
Henderson said this year's theme, "Celebrating The Past...While Charting the Future" recognizes the organization's service to the community, and its commitment to a stronger future. During the week, students from several Baltimore high schools who participate in the organization's Groove Leadership Academy [GLA] will participate in forums. Several lucky students will also be awarded scholarships during a special banquet.
"It's truly overwhelming when you can see the results of your vision from a half a century ago still alive and active in our brothers today," said Barry Hampton, one of the founders and past president of Groove Phi Groove. "This anniversary represents a legacy of 50 years of service and dedication to the community. We're young, but through our many chapters, we have become a major force when it comes to outreach, making a significant difference in the lives of others, and in ourselves."
Henderson, 51, said Groove members take the students on field trips, to the theater, to meet professionals, as well as enjoy sporting events.
"It's more about the time we spend," he said. "We're still tinkering because we want to make sure that we do it enough to make an impact. We let each chapter feel its way on that."
Hampton, 71, recalled the early days. He said he and several of the founders began classes at Morgan State University in 1960. They stayed on campus for one semester then began looking off-campus for a place to live. They ended up living in approved homes, paying $96 a month rent.
The friends settled in and started having parties.
"The parties became popular," Hampton said. "We invited all of the frats, sororities and others. We developed camaraderie."
Hampton laughed as he explained how the group got its name.
"If we had a young lady, we'd groove. We'd ask, 'Who're you grooving with?'"
The name stuck.
One Friday evening, Hampton said, he and his friends marched in a line across campus and strode through the library singing, which raised the ire of the dean who demanded the names of all involved. Under the threat of expulsion, one young man revealed them.
No serious trouble came out of that spontaneous act, but the friends started an informal group. Hampton said to that point, no one from a non-Greek organization had ever been elected student body president so he struck a deal to support a student seeking the position in return for him helping the Grooves get on campus. GPhiG's founders were: Hampton; Nathaniel Parham; Charlie Johnson; Woodrow Williams; James Hill; Nathaniel Monroe; Barry Simms; Bob Simpson; John Conquest; Walter Goodwin; Glenn Brown; Raymond Clark; David Nesbitt and Harry Payne, who is deceased. The 13 remaining founders all remain active with the organization they helped create.
Hampton said the organization incorporated in 1962 and took on a line of 25 young men. Soon the organization spread and was chartered at schools including North Carolina A&T, Delaware State, South Carolina State, Cheyney and Lincoln universities. It has 40,000 members.
"We were in black schools in southern states but we had a lot of people in New York and New Haven, Conn., too," said Hampton. "We were very powerful at Cheyney and Lincoln."
The conclave will be held Oct. 10-14 at the Baltimore Marriott Hunt Valley Inn. Groove member, Vernon "Earl the Pearl" Monroe, will be the guest speaker during the Founders Luncheon & Scholarship Presentation on Thursday, Oct. 11 at 12:30 p.m. Monroe, an NBA Hall of Famer, played for the Baltimore Bullets, now the Washington Wizards and the New York Knicks. Hampton said activities include a golf tournament; a prayer breakfast; boat ride; church service; and a Black and White Ball.
"This is a historic moment in the annals of our organization, and to celebrate it with our founders makes it even more so," said Henderson. "We are fortunate to be able to honor and interact with [them]. The strength and commitment of these 14 men are a result of who we are today."