Sunday, February 05, 2006

Alpha Phi Alpha's second century of service

I heard a sound bite the other day, questioning the relevance of Black History Month in 21st-century America. I just saw part of a PBS documentary about Alpha Phi Alpha, an African-American fraternity dedicated to building leadership within the black community, for the benefit of the entire nation. Notable alumni of ΑΦΑ include Martin Luther King, Jr., Thurgood Marshall, Kwame Kilpatrick, Ron Dellums, and Andrew Young.

Several years ago, ΑΦΑ created a World Policy Council, which expands the scope of Alpha's concern worldwide. Unfortunately, I was not able to find most of the WPC's policy statements on the web, but a press release about their Middle East policy statement speaks well for them:

We, along with the rest of the world, watched as the cycle of violence in land once considered Holy mounted upon itself, spun along seemingly out of control, spiraled ever upwards, reaping in its wake destruction of lives and property, trampling on icons once considered sacred to many religions and, more importantly, crushing the hopes for the rule of some kind of sanity in this part of the world — hopes harbored by everyone, those caught up in the violence and the rest of us. It seems appropriate to take advantage of the current pause in the violence to consider how it may be possible to leave behind forever the configuration of attitudes and actions that have brought us to this deadly juncture.

Perhaps our experience as African-Americans gives us some perspective to understand the minds of both Israelis and Palestinians. Although no one else in recent history has been put through the catastrophe of the Holocaust, we believe that our time of trial over in the Israeli memory of the great disaster which befell them in Europe during World War II and their consequent devotion to what may appear to them to be absolute security. At the same time, we believe that our past allows us also to understand the Palestinian cry for what they believe is elementary justice. With those credentials, we offer these thoughts in the hope that, as much as any words can, they will help move this problem in the direction of a long overdue resolution.

We call equally upon the nation of Israel and upon the Palestinians to give up their deadly ritual of strike and counter-strike at least long enough for people and nations of goodwill to bring about a cessation of hostilities so that the opportunity may be created for establishing the conditions for a just and lasting peace in this part of the world. The stakes are now so high that a resolution of this long-simmering conflict can no longer be left to the two parties alone to resolve. In our opinion, the leadership on both sides seems to have forgotten how to move beyond the grisly routine of vengeance toward a loftier basis for action.

Complicating this condition is the fact that both sides can probably obtain access to weapons of mass destruction. This means, of course, that unless this situation is brought under control, the world is faced with the distinct possibility of a nuclear disaster. Such an outcome is, simply put, unthinkable.

The two parties to the conflict need help in recapturing their ability to make peace. Our own country, the United States, which has great influence with both parties, and other nations which understand the frightful possibilities flowing from a failure to end this dispute, must help find a just settlement and provide guarantees for it. The kind of peace we believe necessary is one composed of more than a simple cessation of belligerence. It must be one that will lay the foundation for a situation in which the parities will live in mutual respect for each other. Such a peace requires the dispensation of justice. In the absence of justice, there will be no lasting peace. In our opinion, at least, simple justice requires that Israel be permitted to live in peace within its borders and that the Palestinians be granted a state of their own.

— World Policy Council, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., 2002-10-29
In a perfect world, Black History Month would be unnecessary, because the contributions of African-Americans would be recognized equally within the fabric of American history. In that perfect world, an organization like ΑΦΑ would also be unnecessary, because our entire community would foster and nurture all of the young people who will be the leaders of tomorrow. However, in the world we actually live in, I give thanks for 100 years of dedicated service by the brothers of ΑΦΑ and I give thanks to Black History Month and PBS for highlighting it.