It'll be a Psi Phi Philly week as the Omegas gather for their 79th conclave

MILBERT O. BROWN / THE ORACLE Omegas gather by the thousands for the 2011 conclave at Howard.
MILBERT O. BROWN / THE ORACLE Omegas gather by the thousands for the 2011 conclave at Howard.
Posted: July 08, 2014

AS AN undergrad at Howard University, I used to scatter - afraid I'd get pinched - when Omega Psi Phi fraternity members would do their step routines out in the Yard.

They may have been student leaders and scholars, but they earned their nickname, "Que Dogs," partly because of how they acted toward women and the way they would hump the floor during step shows, barking like their unofficial mascot, the bulldog.

Among the "Divine Nine" black fraternities and sororities, Omegas have a reputation for rowdiness. However, their ranks also include some of the best and brightest scholars, scientists, athletes and activists in the country.

An estimated 20,000 members of the 103-year-old fraternity are scheduled to descend on Philly Thursday through July 16 for the group's 79th Grand Conclave.

"With them, you have both ends of the spectrum - great leaders and thinkers, and you have some folks for whom it's a license to behave badly," explained Walter M. Kimbrough, author of Black Greek 101: The Culture, Customs, and Challenges of Black Fraternities and Sororities. "You have the Omega men and you have the Ques."

If the hospitality community really wants to roll out the purple-and-gold welcome mat (the frat's official colors), they should blast Omega Psi Phi's unofficial theme song, "Atomic Dog" by George Clinton, at Philadelphia International Airport to greet attendees as they arrive.

Why must I feel like that

Why must I chase the cat

Nothin' but the dog in me

Bow-wow-yippie-yo-yippie-yeah

Bow-wow-wow-yippie-yo-yippie-yeah

Bow-wow-yippie-yo-yippie-yeah...

"That music is going to be everywhere. You are going to have people driving down the street with their radios blasting - all kinds of stuff," said Andrew A. Ray, president, or grand basileus, of the Decatur, Ga., based group.

"We like to have a good time but we like to have a good time in the proper way. Every time you step out as an Omega man, you represent the organization," he said. "We carry ourselves in a manly and professional manner."

I've talked with local members who plan to move into the Marriott at 12th and Market so they won't miss out on any of the river cruises, dances, day parties and formal receptions. Many of the events are open to the public, though some require tickets.

"I plan on setting up some brothers in my crib. Brothers are going to be staying with me," said Omega Psi Phi member Patrick Robinson of Deptford, N.J. "I'm excited because I know the Philly Conclave is going to be the talk. The brothers will be here."

So will the sisters.

I'm sure I'll get calls from out-of-town girlfriends, looking for a place to stay so they can go to some of the parties and meet these college-educated men.

But the conclave isn't just about fun.

The organization is reeling from an incident last month during a joint fundraiser by a local Omega chapter and the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, when a metal security gate at a Rita's Water Ice on Girard Avenue fell, killing 3-year-old Wynter Larkin.

"We need to find just what has transpired. Since we don't have all the information, we don't yet have any official statement," Ray said of the tragedy. "We want to wait and let the authorities complete the investigation."

While in Philly, the Omegas - whose members include such notables as Bill Cosby, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Steve Harvey, ESPN's Stephen A. Smith and Eagle Malcolm Jenkins - also will hold a youth leadership conference for 200 black males and donate food and other items for a Feed the Children giveaway at Deliverance Church on West Lehigh Avenue.

A rich history

Omega Psi Phi fraternity got its start in 1911 on the Howard campus in Washington, D.C. Administrators of the historically black university initially were skeptical, fearing it might be seen as a threat to the school's white leadership.

With the help of renowned biologist Ernest Everett Just, the Omegas' first faculty adviser, the frat worked through all that. Since then, 200,000 men have successfully pledged the predominantly black fraternity, either while in college or through a graduate chapter. Today, there are roughly 120,000 Omega men worldwide.

The founding principles of Omega Psi Phi fraternity are manhood, perseverance, uplift and scholarship - not that this comes to mind when you see an undergraduate Omega pledge line in action.

"For some people, particularly at the undergraduate level, they are drawn to this type of rowdy, bad-boy image," said Kimbrough, the president of Dillard University in New Orleans, who pledged Alpha Phi Alpha in 1986. "They're a very complex organization just in terms of the kind of people who are attracted to being members. These are people you wouldn't expect to be in the same room."

When I chatted with Ray about the conclave last week, I asked him what was up with that barking thing.

"Back in the day, in earlier times, each organization identified with something," Ray said. "It's not an official designation of the Omegas."

Omegas do grow up, and they take those principles seriously.

"With all the men we bring into the organization, we need to constantly emphasize what our pillars are all about, and lead through personal example," said Larry Burks, a retired Army lieutenant colonel who will receive his 40-year membership pin in Philly. "This organization has stood the test of time and the principals on which it was founded."

Also, a list of famous Omega Psi Phi fraternizers.


For a full list of activities at the 79th Grand Conclave, Thursday through July 16, go to omegapsiphifraternity.org.


On Twitter: @JeniceArmstrong

Blog: ph.ly/HeyJen

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