50 years of brotherhood

The first historically black fraternity celebrates half a century on Mizzou's campus.

A group of men making the alpha symbol with their hands.

Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc. Alumni of Mizzou's Zeta Alpha chapter welcome guests to an event at The Blue Note: Te'Ron Simmons (left), Warren Davis, Chris Blackwell (white jacket), Je'Von Adams Walker and Maques Williams (right).

It was a cool Tuesday night on May 17, 1966, when seven men, known as “The Pearls,” became the founding members of the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc. chapter on the University of Missouri campus.

The founding members of the Zeta chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha.

The Pearls, who founded the Zeta Alpha chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha in 1966.

“At the time, the closest [Alpha chapter] was in Jefferson City at Lincoln University,” says founding member and Interim UM System President Mike Middleton, BA '68, JD '71. “I have two older brothers who went to Lincoln and were Alphas, and my father was an Alpha. So, I knew about Alpha and I wanted to be an Alpha. There were five other men on campus who had similar sentiments, so we started the process of trying to form a chapter.”

An undergraduate student at Lincoln University joined the six MU students to make seven, the number of men required by the national office to start a chapter. Together, with the help of Lincoln’s graduate chapter, the men went through an initiation process and formed Zeta Alpha, the 332nd Dynasty of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.

Alpha Phi Alpha, the first intercollegiate Greek-letter fraternity established for African American men, was founded Dec. 4, 1906, at Cornell University. More than 100 years after its founding, the men of the fraternity still strive to develop leaders and promote brotherhood and academic excellence while providing service and advocacy for their communities.

Commitment to the community
Middleton and a student.

Interim UM System President Mike Middleton, a founding member of the Zeta Alpha chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha, greets alumnus Je'Von Adams-Walker, who crossed in fall 2012.

When the founding members established Mizzou’s chapter, they committed themselves to progressing the African-American experience here. Fifty years later those commitments are still being continued in the Zeta Alpha chapter and across the country.

“[Being an Alpha] means I’m a part of a long, long tradition of what we call great men,” Middleton says. “You think back to W.E.B. Du Bois, Martin Luther King Jr., Thurgood Marshall – countless black men who have stood up and spoken truth and made change in the country. It’s nice to be a part of that tradition, and I think the young brothers who are coming up will continue to do that.”

“You think back to W.E.B. Du Bois, Martin Luther King Jr., Thurgood Marshall — countless black men who have stood up and spoken truth and made change in the country.”
- Interim UM System President Mike Middleton

The Zeta Alpha Pearls are responsible for the establishment of the Legion of Black Collegians, MU’s black student government, and the NAACP chapter at MU, two organizations that have helped ensure African American students voices are heard. Middleton says LBC, which is the only university-recognized black student government, was created to heal a divide that was occurring in the black campus community in the late 1960s.

“It was an effort to unite. By that time [on campus] there were the Kappas, the Deltas, the AKAs and us,” Middleton says. “We were drifting apart into our own social fraternities and sororities and not speaking as group. LBC was an effort to join those Greek orgs and non-Greek African Americans into a cohesive voice for black students.”

Lasting legacy
Young man yelling.

A new Zeta Alpha member is revealed at the spring 2016 neophyte presentation at The Blue Note March 17.

The Zeta Alpha chapter has “crossed,” or initiated into full membership, more than 200 men and has hosted countless philanthropic events, including their most recent, a DJ battle, which raised resources for people affected by the Flint, Michigan, water crisis. To celebrate their latest milestone, the chapter is holding a 50th-anniversary brunch April 16.

While the parties, philanthropy and other events the chapter holds are highly anticipated among the African American community at Mizzou, senior chapter president Phelan Simpkins says what he loves most about being an Alpha is the journey the fraternity has taken him on.

“Honestly, ZA is part of the reason I am the person I am today,” Simpkins says. “When I got to campus I was really here to have a good time, which led to a few poor decisions. Yet, when I formally expressed my interest in the fraternity, there was always an eye on me, challenging me to dig deeper and be a better person. Though me and some of the former brothers would bump heads due to my strong personality type, I appreciate the fact that they at least thought enough to see I wasn’t living up to my true potential as a black male. From there I have always been conscious of my own self brand.”

Uniting generations

Alpha Phi Alpha members take the stage at The Blue Note during the spring 2016 neophyte presentation.

In March, Zeta Alpha held its neophyte presentation, an induction ceremony presenting newly accepted members. Ten new members were revealed.

To preserve a sense of brotherhood, the chapter also has launched its Zeta Alpha Alumni Network. The goal is for members to bridge the gap between men who may have crossed decades ago and those who have recently crossed.

As for the next 50 years, senior Brandon Jackson, the chapter vice president, has nothing but high expectations for Zeta Alpha.

“I hope we continue being exceptional men, continue leading and focusing on being a positive impact in people’s lives,” he says. “I don’t want ZA to lose sight of community service and how important that is —  or respecting women. That’s all I can hope for: that it continues being great.”

In addition to their 50th-anniversary celebration, the Mizzou Alphas host a week of events April 10-16, including volunteer opportunities for the Mizzou community and the annual Miss Black and Gold Scholarship Pageant. Anyone who is part of the Mizzou and greater Columbia community is welcome and encouraged to attend. Keep up on Twitter at @MizzouAlphas.

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