There were African carvings in the lobby, African ambassadors on the dais and African dancers on the floor at a program last night for something peculiarly American -- the college fraternity.

It was the 73rd annual gathering of Alpha Phi Alpha, the country's oldest predominately black fraternity. The evening at the Washington Hilton was, in essence, be proud of your heritage night.

So blacks like Liberian Ambassador Francis A. Dennis, Washington Major Marian Barry and Ghanaian Ambassador Alex Quaison-Sackey made remarks to more than 1,000 Alphas who had assembled in the ballroom as part of their five-day convention. The message of the leaders was straightforward and clear: Let's support our brothers and our heritage.

"African states have witnessed some severe setbacks in economic, social and political developments." Dennis told the crowd. "Difficulties still lie ahead, but Africa's future can still be fashioned by respect for human dignity."

"We can never get too involved in our own problems to forget to reach out to our brothers and sisters in the Caribbean and Africa," said the major, who has just returned from a trip there. "We might have come over on different ships -- but believe me, we'er in the same boat."