Alpha Phi Alpha’s Psi chapter, Penn’s oldest black fraternity, held a candlelight vigil on Martin Luther King Jr. Day to cap off its centennial celebrations.
The chapter celebrated its 100th anniversary with events over the weekend to commemorate its founding on Jan. 21, 1920. The celebrations included a gala on Saturday night at the Franklin Institute which featured keynote speaker Marc Morial, 1980 College graduate and CEO of the National Urban League. Approximately 250 fraternity brothers attended the centennial events, the chapter president and Wharton senior Isaiah Washington said.
The vigil, an annual event organized by Alpha Phi Alpha and its sister sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha’s Gamma Epsilon Philadelphia City Chapter, began in Irvine Auditorium with speeches by current and former chapter members and a performance by The Inspiration, a Penn a cappella group which performs music written by artists of African descent.
Speaking to the crowded recital hall, University Chaplain Reverend Charles Howard, who is a 2000 College graduate and former member of the Psi chapter, said that while King attended Crozer Theological Seminary in Upland, Pa., he also took classes at Penn in Fisher Bennett Hall with William Fontaine, the first fully affiliated black professor at Penn.
Howard added that King was also a member of Alpha Phi Alpha's Sigma chapter at Boston University.
After a silent march from Irvine to the compass located at 37th Street and Locust Walk, attendees lit candles and sang, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” often referred to as the black national anthem, Washington said.
While the Psi chapter was incorporated at Penn, Washington said that the chapter also includes students from institutions including Drexel University, Haverford College, and Swarthmore College.
Chapter Vice President and College senior Aaron Davis praised the chapter’s reach to connect with students from other institutions across Philadelphia.
"Having a group of black men come together to support each other financially, academically, [and] socially is really powerful and to see that the legacy of support has continued to this day is very powerful to me," Davis said.
For many chapter members, the centennial was a moment to reflect on how far Penn has come as a learning environment for people of color since 1920.
“Back in 1920, the University of Pennsylvania was not an easy place to be for people of color," Davis said. "There was a lot of hard work and a lot of strength that went into being a student, not being able to eat at the dining halls, being forced to the back of the class."
Chapter advisor and 1983 College graduate Jeff Hill added that compared to his experience as a student in the 1980s, the chapter is more integrated and accepted into the historically predominantly white Penn community.
“I see that a lot of the stereotypes that may have existed back in the '80s are now broken and people are more tolerant of other students these days,” Hill said.
Hill said that he hopes the Psi chapter continues to build its membership and address the needs of its surrounding communities so that it will be at Penn for another 100 years.