Classes had just resumed for the winter semester on the campus of the University of Michigan when just minutes before midnight on Jan. 6, 1979 I joined 11 other anxious young Black men, mostly freshmen, at a popular meeting place, “The Cube,” for what would become a 13-week journey of madness, mayhem and mind-blowing experiences. Facing mounds of snow, freezing temperatures, swirling winds and of course both uncertainty and lingering doubts, we were about to embark upon an historic path which only eight of us would successfully complete — one that included step shows, physical, mental and emotional tests of endurance, far-too-frequent butt-warming visits from “the Wood” and moonlit “workouts” in the tree-laden outdoor garden that stretched for miles, “the Arb.”
Looking back, I could never have imagined the things I would see, the people I would meet, the memories I would make, the road trips I would take or the countless moments of joy, love and celebration that would be cherished moments of my life. But I would eventually discover the magic — and I have been the better for it.
On April 7, at 11:39:13 p.m., I would “cross the burning sands” at Epsilon Chapter — joining thousands of other college-educated men before me to become a brother in the nation’s first African-American intercollegiate Greek-letter organization — Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. Since then, hundreds of thousands of brothers like me pause on Founders Day, Dec. 4, honoring the brave men, the “Seven Jewels,” who founded the study and support group for minority students who faced racial prejudice, both educationally and socially, at Cornell University in 1906, recognizing the need for an organization grounded on the bonds of strong brotherhood.
Pledging has faced its criticisms, often rightly so, because of undue violence — “hazing” — that has left many young men, scarred, injured and on rare occasions, even dead. By God’s grace, I would not be subjected to undue pain and suffering — well, not too much anyway. Did I sometimes want to quit? Of course, but you’d have to know my departed father, C.B. McNeir, to understand why quitting was never a viable option. If could change one thing from those wild days, I wouldn’t alter one moment.
We partied every New Year’s Eve at Jimmy D’s house in Highland Park, chanting, stomping and sipping on “pluck.” We tutored children in schools in Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti and Detroit. We raised money for the needy, delivered dinners, toys and coats. We held smokers for inquiring minds, partnered with Ques, Kappas, Deltas and AKAs as leaders on the Panhellenic Council. We helped each other pass classes, hitting the mark together on difficult exams, helping with tough term papers and wearing our colors with pride on graduation day when we received our diplomas.
I, along with my sands, Tony Jones, Edward Nwokedi, Cyril Mayes, Terrence Haugabook, Gary Hardwick, James Hamilton and Kevin Brown as part of “Pharaoh’s Finest,” will forever be the only eight who can lay claim to moving, memorable moments: chasing our one reliable vehicle down a hill on Central Campus after leaping out without engaging the brakes; eating meals for eight hungry souls on less than $20 bucks; sneaking into dorm cafeterias begging for food from Alpha Angels and other soul sisters (love you Joy M., Candace Jenkins, Tanya B. and Fish); woofing down mounds of prunes at Denny’s as the brothers looked on and laughed. Those were the days! I always felt safe though because of big brothers from the Brothership Connection and Ego One; men (and women) of color who I’d grow to respect and love: Waldo, Mouse (and Mrs. Mouse), Micah, C.B., David “the dentist,” Brother Armstrong, Tony C., Mike White (and his soulmate Denise, a godsend for hundreds of Black students), B.C. and Marcus (my young personal who I’d take across the sands) and of course my best buddy, Kevin Grant (A-Phi from Motown) and my college roommate Russell Robert Richey on whose shoulder I cried on, who loaned me money in the clutch and who never let me walk alone. Last, I continue to pray for the spirits of those who have gone on to glory: Bruce (the Daddy), DP (Kenneth Maurice Jones), Ervin (my big personal) and Earl (whose smile could light up a room).
I would not be who I am today without each of you. Pledging Alpha was indeed, magic! Check out the brothers in the black and gold — too cold, too cold! PsychoALPHAdiscobetabioaquadoloop!