Historically Black fraternity Phi Beta Sigma has no desire to be a silent partner in the White House initiative My Brother’s Keeper. Instead it plans to be a very vocal one, raising millions of dollars on its own and, it hopes, via partnerships with other national organizations, to fund a slew of programs designed to save and support the lives of young Black men and boys.
Phi Beta Sigma president Jonathan Mason says its only right: after more than a century of service, America’s Black fraternities and sororities have a steep legacy to fulfill.
“We’ve been around for 108 years when you consider the nine Black fraternities and sororities,” he says, “and when you look at the Black leaders that have changed American society, most of them have come from Greek letter organizations – from Dr. King to Rep. John Lewis to Jesse Jackson, to Dorothy Height and everyone in between. All of them were groomed and found their footing in Greek letter organizations, so how is it that we make it to 2014 and we are not looked upon to make meaningful change in our communities? We seek to change that.”
To that end Phi Beta Sigma — an organization of 150,000 educated predominantly African American males — has developed and released a 10-point plan of action designed to increase mentorship, get more Black males into college and keep them there until they graduate, among other critical objectives. Co-signed by President Obama, the fraternity hosted a panel featuring the Reverend Al Sharpton, Dr. Michael Eric Dyson and Dr. Marc Lamont Hill and others discussing the plan at the Congressional Black Caucus.
“We developed an answer to the President’s challenge called 'I Am My Brother’s Keeper,'” says Mason. “It focuses on training 10,000 mentors for our children; training 5,000 men to be strong fathers in our communities; adopting 100 schools; and giving out more than $1 million in scholarships. It’s a full comprehensive program that we believe is going to make an impact in our communities,” he says, adding that the March of Dimes and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, part of the Department of the Interior, have pledged their support.
“We plan to deliver updates against our goals every 90 days,” Mason continues. “Then next year at our national convention in Little Rock Arkansas we will announce our success. We have 600 chapters domestically and internationally. If we’re all focused on one agenda there’s nothing we can’t achieve.”
Where does the fraternity, which marked its centennial celebration this year, plan to start?
“It and mentorship is the answer to all of the issues we’re facing,” explains the PBS president. “We have over 200,000 young men between 18 and 24 in prison,” he says. “If they were in college think about the difference that would make to our society. Too many of our young people are growing up in household run by big mama. We need our men – men that look and talk like these young boys and have the same cultural experience – to give a portion of their time to mentorship. They need to help model successful behavior because the messages that these young boys are getting in their music and in the media are not what we would want them to emulate.
Another one of our focuses is our Sigma Beta Club, a youth auxiliary group for boys between the age is 8-18. Our plan is to grow it by 20 percent over the next 12 months, increasing our reach, which, in turn, increases our impact.
Additionally Mason sits on the board of directors for a non-profit and camp currently being built designed to reach and teach young Black boys pride, self-esteem building and interpersonal skills. “Camp New Joy is another project we’re working on, focusing on African American males,” he says. “It sits on nineteen acres of land in West Virginia. We’re going to take these young boys out of these brick cities and negative environments and take them to a place they’ve never been before and help change their lives. Until every young child has a seat at the table of success, none of us has success.”