Douglas Goodall had a plate of food in his hand and a special sparkle in his eye as he repeated three times, "I crossed the burning sands of Alpha 50 years ago."
Goodall, who is in his 70s and whose silver hair gleamed under the hotel lights, was at the Harambee Hotel near Howard University last week with more than 200 other "brothers" of the black Greek fraternity Alpha Phl Alpha to celebrate the 72nd year since the organization was founded in December 1906 at Cornell University.
A handful of others, who along with Goodall had served 50 years or more in the fraternity, were encouraged to come forward to be lauded as the "golden men" of the organization.
For those who spent more than half a century in the organization, as well as those who had pledged less than a year ago, the luncheon had a special meaning.
For Dr. Rupert Picott, an Alpha and executive director of the Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and History, the luncheon was a place "to generate camaraderie."
Hanley J. Norment, past president of the Montgomery County Alpha Phi Alpha chapter which won a national award from the fraternity for its community service, said the organization has a membership with a "diversity" of ideas.
The diversity was apparent during a question and answer period following the address of guest speaker Louis E. Martin, an Alpha and assistant to President Jimmy Carter.
One young Alpha asked, "I know you are a Democrat, Brother Martin, but I want to know what you think about the Republican platform concerning social welfare reform. I think they have a good idea by cutting back the waste and making people on the welfare rolls work and have pride in themselves."
From the back of the room, deep sighs and groans came from fellow Alphas. One Alpha shook his head and repeated twice: "You can tell that young boy got a good job early. He sure didn't have to fight to survive."
"Yeah," another voice said, "somebody ought to tell him something."
Martin responded, "These are some of the issues we are dealing with."
Despite the brief difference of opinion, there was a sense of unity that filled the large banquet room, from the Alpha hymn to the almost religious rededication ceremony that ended the luncheon.
The speaker said, "Let us pray together the Alpha prayer."
They responded, "O Lord, may the true spirit of fraternity rule our hearts, guide our thoughts and control our lives so we may become, through Thee, servants of all, Amen."