Three Generations of Omega Men
Omega Psi Phi Honors a Real Superstar
I have attended many unique cultural events at the Dwyer Center in Harlem. For a writer seriously interested in the cultural scene…it is an oasis of high culture that displays black genius in a variety of projects. Hence evenings at the Dwyer tend to be memorable affairs…Wednesday night was unforgettable. Earlier in the day the last Space Shuttle was formally decommissioned and stationed in the Intrepid Museum, a decommissioned aircraft carrier anchored in the Hudson Bay.
This ceremony occasioned a visit from the Director of the National Space and Aeronautical Administration Charles Boldon: a retired Major General in the Marine Corp, Astronaut and former commander of the Space Shuttle. And while he was in the city General Bolten was feted in a separate ceremony in Harlem hosted by his Frat Brothers in Omega Psi Phi.
It was an impressive affair that should have been on C-Span and certainly BET. In fact, several of the speakers referred to the lack of media coverage and lamented the fact that the media only seems interested in stories of crime and pathology when discussing black men in America. I regard their absence as proof of what the great Harlem writer Albert Murray has long argued: “Whenever they are given a choice of a story of black heroism or pathology they inevitably choose the tale of pathology.”
As I sat watching this very impressive group of black men honor one of their own. It is hard to imagine a more impressive choice. General Bolden embodies the very best values of the “Talented Tenth,” the striving class called into existence by Dr. Dubois in 1903 that would set the standards to which all should strive in the Afro-American community.
He is the son of southern school teachers, a class that produced generations of outstanding citizens despite the hardships and restrictions of a racist apartheid police state based on the principle of white supremacy. Charles Boldon was indoctrinated with the idea that education is the road forward in the world, and the narrative of his life is proof of the veracity of this approach. As a graduate of the demanding Naval Academy, Bolden chose the Marine Corps as his branch of service and rose steadily to the top.
Throughout the evening they speakers stressed the importance of “manhood,” which they defined as hard work, disciplined study, and achievement against all odds. In fact, they emphasized taking on the hard tasks, an ideal symbolized by General Bolden. They young men in the audience, some of whom were recently initiated Omega men, proved to be achievers with their sights set on the distant star and are shooting for the top. One young man was introduced to us as a budding aero-space engineer with a 4.0 academic average – straight A’s! Another young man had just graduated from City College where he was the campus chapter of the Omega’s.
While some observers are surprised to find Afro-American fraternities on predominantly white college campuses, the first black Greek Letter organizations were founded on white college campuses. They provided mutual support for black men in hostile racial environments.
Omega Psi Phi was the first Fraternity founded on a black campus when they established a chapter at Howard University on November 17, 1911. Among the founding members was the faculty advisor Dr. Ernest Just, whose own life of achievement set the standard for Omega men. Dr. Just was one of the world’s greatest scientists. A biologist, he became the world’s foremost authority on the reproductive process of marine mammals when he published his path breaking book “The Biology of the Cell Surface.”
Even living in racially segregated America, where the life’s chances of Afro-Americans were severely restricted by law and custom. As Dr. Kenneth Manning, an Afro-American scholar who was Professor of the History of Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, tells us in his biography of Dr. Just, “Black Apollo of Science,” despite his brilliance Dr. Just experienced the same racial insults and discrimination as all other black people in racist America. However he refused to let that stop him from achieving the highest standard of excellence in science.
Dr. Just was the first black scientist to be invited to conduct research at the world renown marine biology laboratory at Wood’s Hole in Massachusetts. Dr. S. Allen Counter, Professor of Neuro-Biology at Harvard and a Senior Research Fellow at the Korilynska Institute in Sweden, one of the world’s outstanding biologist, told me a story of how he learned of Dr. Just that is instructive. He was sitting in a drawing room reading at Wood’s Hole late one night, when he started looking around the room at the portraits of great scientists who had conducted research there. Suddenly he saw a handsome black man of regal bearing staring down at him.
Dr. Ernest Everett Just
A World Renowned Scientist
Dr. Counter was shocked! Who could this mysterious black man be? He looked at the name on the Plaque and it said Dr. Ernest Everett Just; he had never heard of him. As he researched his anonymous ancestor he discovered that Dr. Just was one of the best biological researchers of his age; and that he had done this work without the tremendous support that an institution like
Howard could offer: reduced teaching loads; paid sabbaticals; state of the art research laboratories; talented grad students to work on research on projects under his tutelage. Yet in spite of these deprivations Dr. Just was the first American scientist from an American university to be appointed to teach a professorship at the Kaiser Welhiem University in Germany, which was generally regarded as the most did distinguished scientific university in the world!
These are the roots from which the Omega men grew. And they have held to that standard ever since; they are committed to produce first class citizens and top shelf professionals. The men of Omega Psi Phi would go on to become fixtures on black college campuses all over; a critical component of college life in whether the school was black or predominantly white.
As I witnessed this ceremony conducted by elegant black men of gravitas, several thoughts came to mind. First and foremost I was stuck by the fact that General Boldon was a worthy heir and splendid exemplar of the tradition of Omega man begun by Dr. Just – like Just Charles Boldon is a for real superstar.
I reflected on how different the quality of life in the black community would be if these men, not the rich Hip-Hop thugs and vain young ballers, were the role models celebrated to our youths. For these Omega men have a viable formula for success; it is inherent in the values they stress.
I also thought of how wrong we radicals were in our assessment of the value and purpose of black Greek Letter fraternities back in the day. In the 1960’s black “revolutionaries” spurned these fraternities, dismissing them as nothing more than organizations that promoted parties and engaged in silly secret rituals that set them apart from the uninitiated like pretentious snobs. We were out to change the world; hence fraternity life seemed like the epitome of bourgeois nonsense to us. We were wrong!
Unlike white fraternities, in which active involvement generally ends after graduation, black fraternities are devoted to rendering service to the wider community and their members remain active for the rest of their lives. One fraternity brother received a badge of honor marking his 60th year as an Omega Man. Given the abundance of destructive role models that proliferate among young black males the work of fraternities is more valuable than ever; both as sources of mutual assistance and service organizations to the black community.
But in all that they do, keeping our grand traditions alive in the lives they lead; then passing them on to our youths, inspiring them to “jump at de sun,” as the great Florida writer Zora Neale Hurston’s unlettered mother instructed her, may be the most valuable of all. They are wisely storing up treasures for the future, honoring an ancestral imperative to life our brethren as we rise. This is a highly valued concept in Afro-American culture. You can hear it in the highbrow poetry of Maya Angelou “And Still I Rise, and in the Rap anthem of Doug E. Fresh: “We Just Keep Rising to the Top!”
The celebration of Omega Man, Major General Bolton at the Dwyer Center in Harlem is the kind of event that the contemporary black community can’t get enough of. Leslie White, the elegantly attired political operator universally known uptown as “The Mayor of Harlem,” pointed out: All of our young people should have witnessed this!” I second that emotion. But it is the job of responsible parenting to see to it that your kids know who people kike General Bolton is.
He is a marvelous role model from many perspectives; for he is a man of many virtues. First among these is his astonishing humility and profound humanity. For a man of such grand accomplishments General Bolton, is very low key and down to earth – except when he is talking about space travel. The remarks that touched me most profoundly were his description of how the earth looks from outer space, and the deep wisdom about the nature and fate of the Homo sapiens species.
General Bolden said from space the earth is one, a few areas of land mass on a planet covered with water. From this perspective it is easy to see that many is one species, and the conflicts sparked by differences in race, nation and class seem petty and self-destructive when we consider our uniqueness among the vastness of God’s creation. After wining and dining on fine spirits and gourmet fare, I left happy as a clam; feeling lucky to be human, and feeling that not even the sky is the limit
The General Recieves His Awards
More Precious than Gold
The General and His Lady
Everything came up Roses
The General and his Frat Brothers
Strong Men of Omega
Professor Jamal Joseph reads a Tribute
Eloquent Panegyrics for a praise worthy Subject
Leslie White: The Unofficial Mayor Of Harlem
Lavishing Accolades on the General
Then he Presented a Plaque
Honoring General Boldon for his Service and his Example
The General Bolden Adressed The Crowd
His tales of outer space lifted us higher!
An Heir Apparent?
An Aerospace engineering student with a 4.0 GPA
Singing their Frat Song
Once more with feeling
The Festivities were Elivened
Wtth fine wine and scrumptous foods
Kudos for the Chefs
Cusine Spiced with Love
There was Song…..
And Dance….From IMPACT!
Elegance and Beauty
Graced the Evening
The Founders Greet and the General
A Mighty Three: Ademola, General Bolden, Cliff Frazier
The evening was a fitting Tribute
For an explorer of New Worlds
Playthell George Benjamin
Harlem, New York
July 19, 2012