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Black Fraternity Kappa Alpha Psi Looks to a Future Beyond Obama

Fraternity brothers Jimmy Phinazee, left, of Richmond, and Andrew Price, of Alexandria, greet each other while shopping for Kappa apparell in the vendor area at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel.
Fraternity brothers Jimmy Phinazee, left, of Richmond, and Andrew Price, of Alexandria, greet each other while shopping for Kappa apparell in the vendor area at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel. (Bill O'leary - Washington Post)

The news of recent weeks across the country hardly escaped the Kappa gathering, and there was talk of the arrest of Harvard scholar Henry Louis "Skip" Gates Jr. at his Cambridge, Mass., home. After a verbal confrontation with a white police officer, Gates was arrested and jailed for several hours. The incident unleashed a perfect storm of commentary from black radio to the op-ed pages. Charges against Gates were eventually dropped, and Gates and the arresting officer, Sgt. James Crowley, were invited by Obama to discuss what happened over beers at the White House.

"We have so many young intelligent men who come into contact with law enforcement, and unlike Gates, who may not have reacted with intelligence," Murray says. "For so long in the black community, law enforcement has been seen as a threat. Clearly, more dialogue is needed. Obama won't be an instant fix for racial relations in America."

If young Kappas needed a primer on finance, they were treated to one shortly after landing in Washington.

The Historical Society of Washington initially picked up the $37,000 bar tab for a welcoming event for the Kappas held there on Monday night. The money had been given to the society by the city. There was jazz and a tasty menu of eats that consisted of, among other items, crab cakes and red velvet cupcakes. However, there was an outcry about Fenty's fraternity having such a posh to-do on the city's dime -- and the matter landed in the lap of D.C. Attorney General Peter Nickles, who deemed it not "proper" for the city to have given the money. The city has since been repaid for the bash.

Kappa Earl Tildon, 73, a native of Washington who now lives in Florida, was hardly amused by the dust-up.

"There has never been a city that has not hosted a reception for us," says Tildon. "I don't know if this was politics or not."

In 2011, the Kappas will celebrate their centennial.

This year's gathering concludes Saturday with a Grand Ball at the hotel.

And so they mingled on, old and young. "Our fraternity is based on achievement," says Dozie Amajoyi, 21, a senior and aspiring lawyer at the University of California at Davis. "President Obama holds the highest seat in the country. It epitomizes my fraternity because that's about achievement. Obviously, now anything is possible."


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