Syracuse University Magazine

Century of Service


SU's Alpha Phi Alpha chapter celebrates 100 years of leadership, community engagement, and mutual support

Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc., the first Greek-life organization founded by African American students, was born in 1906 at nearby Cornell University and established a Syracuse University chapter in 1910. In April, the fraternity's alumni and student members gathered on campus in celebration of the chapter centennial. Among the highlights was a keynote lecture at Hendricks Chapel by Hill Harper, who plays the role of Dr. Sheldon Hawkes on the hit television series, CSI: New York. Harper, an active Alpha who attended Brown and Harvard Law School, was a practicing attorney before turning to acting. He is also a successful entrepreneur whose ventures include a New Orleans French Quarter hotel and a Beverly Hills restaurant. The range and quality of his achievements reflect the organization's long-established values, as did another of the weekend's activities-a group visit to the Southwest Community Center and the Syracuse Boys & Girls Clubs, where fraternity members regularly volunteer as mentors and tutors to Syracuse schoolchildren. "Alpha Phi Alpha is a fraternity like no other," says Jake Tanksley '86, human resources director for SU's Division of Advancement and External Affairs. "Although we're probably best known for high academic standards and careers in the professions, I believe the thing that really sets our organization apart is a shared passion for leadership and community service."

Evidence of that passion is abundant. On the national level, a brief list of notable Alphas includes the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, Prime Minister Norman Manley of Jamaica, NAACP founder W.E.B. DuBois, and activist humorist  Dick Gregory. Although less well known than these historical figures, members of Syracuse's Delta Zeta Chapter have made a difference in shaping campus life: McArthur Sullivan '74, the first African American president of the SU Student Association; Ervin C. Allgood '77, co-founding director of the Black Celestial Choral Ensemble; Richard Lendor '88, student chapter president of the Society of Minority Architects; and Jared M. Green '01, student chapter president of the National Society of Black Engineers. "Alphas have always set the bar high," says Rob Lewis '84, a former ABC News producer who is now president of Broadcast Management Group LLC, a Washington, D.C.-based news production company. "When I arrived on campus in 1980, it was clear that to be an Alpha man you had to be actively engaged in some leadership capacity, be that in campus student government, athletics, or the Syracuse community." 

Among other notables spotted at the centennial reunion were Arthur Vaughn '92, controller of Southern Polytechnic State University in Marietta, Georgia; Mack Rice '82, multicultural director for Met Life in the New York City area; actor Darryl M. Bell '86 (A Different World, Spike Lee's School Daze), a winner of the Chancellor's Citation; and William J. Haskins Jr. '52, the senior member in attendance, who pledged Alpha more than 60 years ago. Haskins, a running back for the Orange football team, won letters in track and gymnastics as well, and was instrumental in reviving Alpha Phi Alpha at SU after World War II. He went on to earn a master's degree in social work from Columbia University and had a distinguished career, including a stint as a director of the National Urban League. Now retired, he makes his home in Richmond, Virginia. "Even among all the prosperous, successful alumni you expect to see at an Alpha Phi Alpha event, William Haskins is a walking advertisement for healthy living," says Larry Martin, associate vice president for program development at SU. "I don't think he has gained an ounce since he carried the ball for the Orange." Martin praised the Alphas for their loyalty to each other and their generosity to SU students through the Our Time Has Come Scholarship Campaign and other initiatives.

While many Greek organizations engage in community service these days, Alpha Phi Alpha has been involved in such projects since its founding. "The desire to give back and contribute to society is a critical piece of what we're all about," Tanksley says. "For example, we are very proud of the voter registration campaigns we conduct under the motto, ‘A Voteless People is a Hopeless People.'" In addition to their tutoring work, Alphas award an annual scholarship to a college-bound Syracuse high school senior; carry out health initiatives, including sickle cell anemia screening; and engage in a wide variety of fund-raising programs for charitable foundations. The Syracuse chapter has been recognized for its many efforts by Alpha Phi Alpha's national organization, and was designated National Collegiate Chapter of the Year in 1980. This is no small achievement, considering the hundreds of chapters in the United States, Bermuda, Canada, Germany, South Korea, and elsewhere that bring similar levels of commitment and talent to their community work.

Lewis, an Emmy Award-winning broadcast journalist, recorded a series of interviews with members who talk about their experiences in Alpha Phi Alpha and how the organization helped to shape their lives (see "I've been an Alpha for 28 years and I remain active today for the same reason I joined," Lewis says. "It's an opportunity to work with like-minded individuals toward a common goal of improving the lives of others as illustrated in our motto: ‘First of All, Servants of All, We Shall Transcend All.'" —David Marc

David Robbie (left) and Donald Earl Frost '84 greet each other at the Alpha Phi Alpha gathering.

Among the Alpha Phi Alpha members who returned to campus to celebrate the Syracuse chapter’s 100th anniversary were (front row, left to right) Christopher Surrey ’93, Arthur Vaughn ’92, Ronald Roebuck ’95, and Alex Sepulveda ’93; (back row, left to right) Torry Johnson ’94, Steven King ’88, Dominick Bioh ’92, and Roger Stephens.

Photos courtesy of Arthur Vaughn