The name of Dr. Elbert E. Allen, who was elected Grand Polemarch of the Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity in 1983, was misspelled in Courtland Milloy's column yesterday.
Dr. Delbert E. Allen, who last week received the Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity's highest award, the Laurel Wreath, recalls a letter he got from a young man who was seeking to become the first black student body president at the University of Alabama and asking for financial help. Allen said he didn't know this Cleophus Thomas from Adam, but knowing that he was a Kappa was enough.
With financial backing from Allen and other frat brothers, Thomas won the election -- adding his name to a long list of achievements within the distinguished fraternity.
"We love to push young men like that," said Allen, 63, a dentist from Shreveport, La., who was in Washington for the Kappa's 66th convention. "What I see are future secretaries of state."
With a philosophy for training young black men for leadership and a new emphasis on volunteerism for those who have achieved professional success, it appears Kappa Alpha Psi is on to something big.
Once viewed as just another college campus social group, the 70,000-member Kappa organization has mobilized human and financial resources across the country, making grants to the NAACP and the National Urban League, reinstituting traditional tutoring programs, and moving into schools and onto the streets with leadership training and career guidance.
As part of the black Greek letter family that is so intricately woven into the black middle class, the Kappa fraternity has moved to a new level of involvement for dealing with crises in its community.
Allen, who was initiated as a Kappa in 1941, rose through the ranks with his superb parliamentary skills, becoming Grand Polemarch in 1973, helping revise the organization's constitution and calling for a return to the 1954 "training for leadership" philosophy of his mentor, C. Roger Wilson.
He quickly moved with some success to eliminate Kappa's controversial ritual of "hazing" and at the same time tried to save the group's funds, which were endangered by lawsuits resulting from the practice.
In the midst of his battles, Allen became aware of what he called a "new breed" of young men like Thomas, who were exceptionally intelligent and ambitious.
"It was the beginning of the change in the direction of the Kappas.
"In my day we could not join the Kiwanis Club or be Rotarians," Allen recalled.
"There were no TVs or cars, so people just gathered at the shrines. Then, when we could do all of those things, it was hard to get people to come to meetings unless you issued an exceptional call."
During the 1960s, the Kappas seemed to have nearly forgotten that their fraternity was founded for service and not socializing. Formed in 1911 at Indiana University, while other black fraternities originated on the East Coast, the Kappas were surrounded by Southern sympathizers, and they aimed to prove that they were the better men.
Under Allen's leadership, younger members began to receive new attention through the institution of an achievement award that went to those who had what it took to go straight to the top.
Cleo Thomas, who is just one example, proved to be such a man. The son of a letter carrier and a housewife from Anniston, Ala., succeeded in his bid to become president of the student government at the University of Alabama.
"There is no gimmick about the Kappas that transforms people overnight," Thomas said, "but it does enhance the individuals and affords you a community of shared values which is helpful for development."
While involved in Kappa outreach programs, Thomas managed to graduate from Alabama, receive a degree from the Harvard Law School and study two years at Oxford before returning to Anniston to practice law.
Thomas, who is now 29, joined the Kappas in a gesture that was "an olive branch to the black community. I wanted to serve."
It is a credit to Kappa Alpha Psi that this philosophy is being nurtured and a credit to Kappa men like Allen that the organization's purpose has been restored.