As most people know, given the generous amount of purple and gold items in my wardrobe, I am an extremely proud member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity Inc. However, several weeks ago, when the members of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc. announced that they would confront the considerable challenges associated with moving their 90th general convention to Las Vegas this month rather than convene in Phoenix as planned, I cheered.
The decision came in the wake of Arizona’s governor, Jan Brewer, signing what is widely considered the nation’s toughest immigration law, also set to take effect this month. Arizona Senate Bill 1070 allows the police to challenge the legal residency status of any person they suspect is illegally in the United States.
Without question, the move makes the rampant racial profiling of Latinos and other minorities, including all black and brown people, inevitable—and completely legal.
In announcing the decision, the nation’s oldest historically black fraternity joined the city of San Francisco, the city of Los Angeles, the American Immigration Lawyers Association, and others in demonstrating their outrage. But as righteous as they believed their cause to be, it could not have been an easy decision to make. Given that the convention was mere weeks away, the move represented not only a logistical nightmare, but a financial one as well. As the fraternity confronted litigation with some contractors, Alpha Phi Alpha General President Herman “Skip” Mason Jr. estimated the penalties they faced at more than $300,000. But they did it anyway. Like every group or individual that has ever taken a stand in every civil rights battle ever waged, despite the inconvenience, the risk, the sacrifice, and the pain, they did it anyway.
The Alphas’ dramatic stance put African Americans at the forefront of the rising protest against a growing anti-immigration movement in this country. It’s a movement we’ve been slow—and in some instances unwilling—to become invested in, arguing more often than not that this has nothing to do with us. But it has everything to do with us.
How many of us are first, second, or third generation Americans? How many of us were raised in homes where our parents or grandparents were still struggling to adapt to a new culture that routinely underestimated or devalued them entirely because of their accents? How many of us have relatives still moving here—perhaps from Haiti or West Africa or elsewhere in the Afro-Caribbean diasporas—with little more than eager hearts, hard-working hands, and high hopes? How many of us are among the millions of American Afro-Latinos from Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Cuba, and other Spanish-speaking countries? How many of us are suspiciously eyed—even “randomly” frisked—as we pass through airport security in these terror-filled times?
Let us be clear: Whether we are among the first to stand against this type of injustice or not, we will be among the first victims of any injustices wrought. That’s a guarantee. If history has shown us nothing else, our vulnerabilities remain clear. President Obama himself remains a subject of suspicion, scorn, and vilification by those who refuse to accept his very legitimacy as an American simply because of his skin color and his name.
So, rarely have I been more proud or felt as deep a sense of solidarity with the Alpha Phi Alpha brotherhood as I did in late April. And when they gather at their 104th anniversary convention on July 21st, I’ll still be cheering for them from a distance, applauding the courage it took for them to take a stand, and grateful for the example it sets for us all. As for the monetary cost of the relocation to their membership, Black Enterprise has run enough events for me to know it’s nothing compared to the millions of dollars the state of Arizona lost with their business.
Money talks. And, in this case, it also walked. In so doing, the Alphas sent a clear modern-day message that echoes the timeless words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who was in fact one of their own: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
Earl G. Graves is the founder, chairman and publisher of Black Enterprise.