At Morehouse, we have a special ritual for incoming students. Every year, on the Saturday of New Student Orientation Week (NSO), all the new students, most of whom are freshmen, line up in front of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. International Chapel dressed in white t-shirts, blue jeans and white sneakers. After being read excerpts from speeches about reciprocity and service, and being given a brief overview of the College’s history, the new students are then charged with the responsibility to accept each other as brothers. Upon accepting that charge, on cue, the men then run locked arm-to-shoulder with the person in front of them through the middle of campus — past the dorms, academic buildings, and monuments to the Franklin Forbes Arena — all the while chanting, “I’ve got my brother’s back.”
Upon arrival, the new students are greeted with applause and adulation by the upperclassmen and Morehouse Men, who also hand the new students their first recognized article of Morehouse paraphernalia: a maroon shirt with the official seal and the words Et Facta Est Lux (Let There Be Light). And in a night filled with school hymns, chants and, most importantly, disses on other schools, strangers enter, become friends and leave brothers; forever indebted to the Rev. William Jefferson White, Rev. Edmund Turney and Rev. Richard C. Coulter, a former slave, for their vision to train Black men to be educators and theologians, and to every Morehouse Man, whom since, has carried that light with dignity, severity and conviction.
Last month, four Morehouse students were accused of raping two Spelman women on two separate occasions. According to the Associated Press, one indictment charged Malcolm Frank, Chukwudi Ndudikwa and Tevin Mgbo, three members of the 2012-2013 basketball roster, with raping and kidnapping an 18-year-old Spelman woman who was under the influence of alcohol and other substances, while a separate indictment charged Lucien Kidd, a former Morehouse football player, with raping a Spelman student off campus. Upon being informed about the incidents, the young men were all interviewed by Morehouse campus police and subsequently turned over the Atlanta Police Department and then released on bail.
And while the details of those nights are hazy, one thing is clear: This entire tragedy could have, and should have, been avoided.
There’s a pervasive idea that the modern measure of the Black man is in his ability to exude violence—sexual, physical or economic—by any means necessary and that there are only two tracks for him in life: prison or the unemployment line; that his value to his community is solely and inextricably linked to his ability and willingness to play sports, “bag hoes,” or exploit low-income communities financially to amass wealth (in order to be a baller, you usually have to be a trifecta). And while economic violence, or capitalism, remains largely doled out by corporations, for decades physical and sexual violence, compounded with other societal factors, have come to redefine masculinity through a narrow and patriarchal lens. A lens that has blinded us to the swelling school-to-prison pipeline and has rendered us mum on instances of rape, molestation and other forms of sexual assault that are prevalent in our community.
As evident by data from the U.S. Bureau of Justice, more black men today are under correctional control—either in prison, jail, on probation or parole—than were enslaved in 1850, ten years before the start of the American Civil War and nearly 20 years before the Augusta Institute, which later became Morehouse College, was founded. And according to Black Women’s Blueprint, 60 percent of Black women—our mothers, our sisters, and our daughters—experience sexual violence by a Black man before the age of 18.
For some, that narrow definition of masculinity seems to have also convoluted what it means to be a Morehouse brother.
It’s no secret that Morehouse, like other colleges and universities, has had to redefine itself over the last decade to match the needs of the growing global economy as well as a society that continues to be pushed to make room for all identities and expressions. While grappling with real economic woes, Morehouse has also grappled with the existential realities that come with being a single-gender school focused on population that is endangered. But despite all of our challenges as a college, one thing must remain: our integrity.
Brotherhood—not to be confused with chivalry or sexism—is about a communion of accountability between us as sons of Morehouse and as Black men. It is larger than the chauvinism of mainstream society and we as brothers have a responsibility, to our community and ourselves, to protect it; to stand up for what is right, even if it means standing up alone; and to have the courage to help an incapacitated person—male or female—avoid a terrible decision.
We may never know the details of what happened between those four Morehouse students and those two Spelman women, but brotherhood certainly doesn’t mean staying quiet out of fear.
Today, 532 young men, who some years ago chanted “I’ve got my brother’s back,” will turn a page in their journey to become official Morehouse Men. They, along with their friends and families, will gather on that same Century Campus that they ran through as freshmen or new students and, under the watchful eye of the Dr. Benjamin E. Mays statue, will listen to the commencement address of the first Black president and first sitting president to address a Historically Black College or University. And while each of these men are due praise for their hard work academically, they also now bear a new responsibility: to reclaim brotherhood.
Do the right thing.
Daryl Hannah is a 2006 graduate of Morehouse College and is a writer whose work has appeared on Ebony.com, The Root, The Washington Post and The New York Times. He can be followed on Twitter at @MediaPolitico.