Brotherhood, Mentorship, Service, Change
PSI LAMBDA CELEBRATES 90 YEARS OF SERVICE IN THE CHATTANOOGA AREA
BY MYRON MADDEN | PHOTOS COURTESY OF PSI LAMBDA
E ven at age 73, Booker Scruggs II can still remember running as part of the initiation process for his college fraternity in 1961. As he ran, he recalls, he saw one of the other nine pledges fall behind. Panting, the young man admitted that he had a heart condition and couldn’t keep up.
S cruggs could have left him. This was, after all, his only opportunity to join the fraternity his father had belonged to. But instead, Scruggs slowed down and jogged alongside the struggling man.
And so did every other pledge.
“Rather than leaving him behind, we had to demon- strate that we were going to stay behind and help him come up with every- body else,” Scruggs says.
That dedication to stand- ing by those unable to propel themselves forward is the backbone of Alpha Phi Alpha’s mission and embodies everything its members do — not just at the collegiate level, but also in Psi Lambda, the alumni chapter here in Chatta-
nooga. The chapter’s consistent efforts to support at-risk students have made it a pillar in the local community for 90 years.
LEADERSHIP AND BROTHERHOOD
Alpha Phi Alpha was es- tablished in 1906 at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, as the rst intercolle- giate Greek-letter frater- nity for African-American students. Its founders, now respectfully revered as “The Seven Jewels,” cre- ated it as a safe haven for minority students facing racial prejudice at Cornell, o ering them a support system and a place to study.
The members laid a foundation of scholarship, fellowship and good char- acter, but also saw a need to correct the injustices
African-Americans faced. Alpha men have long been at the forefront of the fight for civil rights through leaders such as Thurgood Marshall and Martin Luther King Jr.
“Look at W.E.B. Du Bois. Paul Robeson. Jesse Ow- ens,” says Cecil Flournoy, an active member of the local chapter since 1976. “Any time there was some- one to champion the cause for civil rights, you’ll nd it was championed and led by Alpha Phi Alpha men.”
Scruggs, who participat- ed in boycotts, remembers watching leaders like King and feeling like “the entire fraternity had a mission.” Now, even years after the Civil Rights Movement, he and the members of Psi Lambda are continuing that mission of creating
a better life for African- Americans, just as they have been since the chapter was chartered on May 15, 1926.
ACADEMIA AND ASSISTANCE
Even before the local alumni had formally started a chapter in Chattanooga, the soon-to-be- members of Psi Lambda were eager to invest in students’ futures. As part of the fraternity’s national “Go-To-High-School, Go- To-College Campaign,”
the members held an essay contest for seniors at a lo- cal high school. The winner was awarded a gold medal, and the two runner-ups received $2.50 in gold.
“Which, in 1926, was probably a significant thing,” Flournoy points out.
Thus began Psi Lambda’s unofficial scholarship program. Believing that a chapter should pay its own way, the members started providing money for high school seniors through chapter dues. Then, in the late ’70s, they began con- ducting fundraisers to raise money. Finally, in 2002, the chapter established a 501(c)(3) nonprofit called the Psi Lambda Educational Foundation to be the arm of its scholarship efforts.
Each year, the founda- tion grants four $1,000 scholarships to seniors from Howard School of Academics and Technology, Brainerd High
School, Tyner Academy and Chattanooga School for the Arts & Sciences, each chosen because of its predominately African- American male population and the struggles they face. The intention is to award one scholarship to the top student in each school.
“Every little bit helps,” says Wilbert Wheeler,
one of the four scholar- ship recipients from 2014. Wheeler, who now attends the University of Tennes- see – Knoxville, is using the money to fuel his dream
of becoming a mechanical engineer. “Yes, it’s a state institution, but it’s very
expensive, and every little bit helps,” he says.
MENTORSHIP AND INTERVENTION
Two years ago, after the members of Psi Lambda realized that no gradu- ates from Howard had quali ed for a scholarship, they decided it was time
to make a change. They developed Young Men of Distinction, an interven- tion program designed to keep male students on a straight and narrow path while providing them with much-needed academic and decision-making skills. Each month, students in
the group meet with teach- ers and community leaders to discuss topics ranging from nancial responsibil- ity and leadership skills to gang violence and con ict resolution. While these lessons are valuable to the students, it’s the mentor- ship that provides a lasting impact.
“I’ve seen a change in some of the students’ be- havior,” says Jeremy Finch, a ninth-grade teacher at Howard who leads the program.
Though the program is only in its second year, the response has been posi- tive. Psi Lambda President
Willie Spight Jr. says he has gotten calls from moth-
ers wanting to enroll their sons in the program, and the students have request- ed weekly meetings instead of monthly. Spight hopes an outpouring of sponsor- ship and support from the community will make it possible to one day expand the program citywide.
“We are there for the long hall,” Spight says. “Until we gure out how to make YMOD open to all schools with a central loca- tion, we will continue to streamline the program so it will remain e ective.”
Seven Jewels Establish Alpha Phi Alpha.
“There’s a consistency in our ideals as men of Alpha: what we strive for and what we expect out of our members. The fraternity as a whole is 110 years old, and yet those values still are ever prevalent and still haven’t changed.”
— Willie Spight Jr., Psi Lambda president
First alumni chapter developed to help stabilize the undergraduate fraternity financially. That chapter was Alpha Lambda in Louisville, Kentucky.
Psi Lambda Chapter established in Chattanooga.
“There was still a yearning for brotherhood”
— Willie Spight Jr.
Bernard Levin becomes first white man initiated into Alpha Phi Alpha.
“Look at our mission statement. It says we develop leaders, promote brotherhood and academic excellence and provide advocacy for the community. It doesn’t say anything about being black”
— Willie Spight Jr.
NOTABLE CHATTANOOGA ALPHAS
Honorable Judge Bennie J. Harris
Harris was initiated into Alpha Phi Alpha in 1947 through the Alpha Rho chapter at Morehouse College, where he was a classmate of Martin Luther King Jr. He served as president of the Psi Lambda chapter and as vice president of Alpha Phi Alpha’s Southern Region. Harris was appointed Ambassador of Goodwill for the city of Chattanooga, made Scruggs was initiated through the Alpha Phi chapter at Clark College in 1928. He was Alpha Man of the Year in 1969 and Tennessee Alumni Brother of the Year in 1975. He taught in the Hamilton County school system and was instrumental in obtaining equal pay for minority teachers. He organized Chattanooga Teacher’s Credit Union and was director of an honorary citizen of Knoxville, Tennessee, and appointed assistant attorney for the city of Chattanooga. In January 1969, he was appointed judge pro tem, and on July 1, 1969, he was sworn in as the first African-American judge of the Chattanooga City Court.
George Alexander Key Sr.
Key was initiated through the Alpha Rho chapter at Morehouse College in 1931. He served as a teacher and principal in the Chattanooga School system for more than 30 years and was the owner and proprietor of Key Enterprises, a construction and property management rm. Throughout his life, he was a civic activist. As a builder during the 1960s, he was instrumental in changing the financing of mortgages, allowing black owners to obtain equitable financing. In 1995, he was one of the lead plaintiffs who successfully sued the state of Tennessee, causing the election process in Hamilton County to be restructured to protect against the dilution of the black vote. He was the first black parole officer for Hamilton County and one of the first black delegates of the National Education Association.
Coach Henry Bowles
Bowles was the athletic director and head basket- ball coach at Howard High School. He was induct- ed into the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association Hall of Fame in 2003. Bowles was an innovative coach who had compiled an impres- sive 616-260 record while coaching the Hustlin’ Tigers at Howard for 29 years. The gymnasium at Howard has been named after him.
Booker T. Scruggs I
Scruggs was initiated through the Alpha Phi chapter at Clark College in 1928. He was Alpha Man of the Year in 1969 and Tennessee Alumni Brother of the Year in 1975. He taught in the Hamilton County school system and was instrumental in obtaining equal pay for minority teachers. He organized Chattanooga Teacher’s Credit Union and was director of housing for the Chattanooga Housing Authority. During his life, he held leadership roles in the community, serving on the boards of Maurice Kirby Day Care, Henry Branch YMCA, Joseph W. Johnson Mental Health Center and the Chattanooga Area Literacy Movement.
Dr. Clifford L. Hendrix Jr.
Hendrix was initiated through the Beta Omicron chapter at Tennessee State University in 1951. He rose through the ranks of the Chattanooga school system, serving as a teacher, assistant principal, principal, supervisor, director, assistant superintendent and retired as deputy superintendent in 1993. In 2004, the Chattanooga community raised more than $100,000 toward the establishment of a chair of excellence in education at Tennessee State University in Hendrix’s name.
Harry W. McKeldin Jr.
McKeldin moved to Chattanooga in 1957 where he began his tenure with Chattanooga Public Schools as a mathematics teacher at Howard, followed by assistant principalships at both the elementary and senior high schools. In 1964, he left Howard to become the principal at Orchard Knob Junior High School. In 1979, McKeldin accepted the position of executive director of Chattanooga Human Services, where he was responsible for a sta of 337 with a budget $14 million. He received the title of distinguished citizen of Chattanooga by Mayor Pat Rose.
OTHER LOCAL NOTABLE ALPHA ALUMNI
Honorable Judge Walter Williams: Chattanooga City Court
Honorable Judge John Millican: Chattanooga City Court
B. T. Perkins: First Black Pharmacist in Chattanooga
Warren Mackey: County Commissioner
Rev. Dr. Jeffrey Wilson: New United Missionary Baptist Church, Hamilton County Board of Education
W. O. P. Dorsey: Coordinator of a special project that facilitated school desegregation
Julian C. Brown: Wrote Howard High School’s school song and helped name Riverside High School
Wendell Collins: Principal of Glenwood Elementary School
Samuel S. Trammell Jr.: Supervisor of Distributive Education for Chattanooga Public Schools
Psi Lambda becomes first black group to host
an event in the Jewish Community Center. The event was a Spring Formal.
“The members of Alpha Phi Alpha always sought to try to be the first at things.”
— Cecil Flournoy, Chapter advisor
Psi Lambda hosts a formal dinner dance at the ballroom of the historical Hotel Patten. This becomes the chapter’s crowning social achievement.
“To date, it’s our crowing social achievement. We are looking for new ‘worlds to conquer.’
— Julian Brown, Psi Lambda member
Psi Lambda hosts Southern Regional Convention in Chattanooga for the first time. Members from Alpha Phi Alpha chapters in seven states were in attendance.
Eta Phi Chapter established on UTC campus.
“Our future is in our young people. And so, promoting education and trying to mentor particular young men, I think, is essential to our future.”
— Cecil Flournoy
SERVICE AND ADVOCACY
While Psi Lambda’s members continue to work on YMOD, they are also involved with several other initiatives to help students and the community. One example is Project Alpha, an annual sex education program where guests talk to young men of color and anyone else interested in attending about safe sex and STDs, as well as the right way to treat women. The chapter also encourages voter registration and vot- ing through its program “A Voteless People is a Hope-
less People,” which features occasional appearances from electoral candidates. In addition to educating community members about their rights through its “Decoding the Code” program in conjunction with the Chattanooga Police Department, Psi Lambda also financially supports the March of Dimes and participates in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program.
“To be in one city and still be vibrant 90 years later is a great accomplishment,” Spight says. “It really speaks for the fraternity and the brotherhood who live here in Chattanooga.”
Psi Lambda Educational Foundation established to provide scholarship funds.
“African-American males, if you look at any statistics at all, are pretty much on the lower end of the totem pole in terms of income, in terms of academic excellence. So we feel that they’re the one’s who are the most worthy in terms of trying to pull themselves up by their bootstraps.”
— Booker Scruggs II,
Psi Lambda member
Chapter hosts first annual Black and Gold Gala to help fund scholarships.
“With the rising costs of education, you’ve got a lot of students who need support and assistance
to financially navigate through that. So it’s something we provide to help them reach their goals.”
— Charles Jackson,
Psi Lambda Educational Foundation president
Psi Lambda hosts Southern Regional Convention for the second time.
“We had over 2,000 men from the Southern Region — which is the largest region.”
— Willie Spight Jr., Psi Lambda President
Young Men of Distinction mentorship program starts at Howard High School.
“I was tired of hearing about the negativity surrounding Howard and Brainerd. They just want to see positive role models that care and are concerned.”
— Willie Spight Jr.
Chapter hosts first annual MLK Memorial Breakfast.
“With Martin Luther King being one of our members, each one of us had a sense of doing something for our community in terms of civil rights, in terms of justice, in terms of helping other people.”
— Booker Scruggs II
Psi Lambda celebrates 90-year anniversary.
“We just want to sit at the table with various other organizations to be part of the big change that’s going on within the city of Chattanooga.”
— Willie Spight Jr.
BLACK AND GOLD GALA
to college, Psi Lambda has developed new ways to raise scholarship money. The chapter hosted its inaugural fundraising MLK Memorial Breakfast last year, and has always accepted donations, but an estimated 90 percent of the scholarship money comes from the annual Black and Gold Gala, says Charles Jackson, president of the chapter’s educational foundation.
In celebration of 90 years of service, this year’s gala will whisk attendees back to where to all began: the 1920s. The “Harlem Nights” themed party will include a cash bar, casino, live music and dancing, along with a chance to help deserving students reach their goals. To snag a tax- deductible ticket, visit bit.ly/1YCW4l3.
WHEN: Saturday, May 21 at 7 p.m.
WHERE: Chattanooga Convention Center