Jason Phillips had his first introduction to Black Greek letter organizations in high school, when he visited numerous historically Black colleges and universities on the East Coast and in the South, including Southern University and A&M College and Morehouse College. At the time, he was unaware of the fact that similar organizations existed outside of just those schools.
“I was like, who are these guys with high energy? They’re really dope, I want to learn more about them,” Phillips said. “But at that time in my head, I assumed the only way you could become a part of a Black organization was by going to a Black college.”
A year after beginning his studies at SF State in 2012, realizing that there were BGLOs on campus, he joined his fraternity, Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc. Pi Chi Chapter. His chapter is unique in that it is both an undergraduate and graduate chapter, so though Phillips is no longer a student, he still is very involved.
As a San Francisco native and current vice president of the chapter, he expressed one of his highlights of being in a BGLO was getting to share Black Greek life with the students he engages through his job at 100% College Prep, a youth organization providing academic resources to highschoolers from low-income communities in San Francisco.
The sense of community and support that Phillips describes is felt by many who are a part of BGLOs on campus. The organizations, unified through SF State’s National Pan Hellenic Council, met with the Africana Studies department on Feb. 9 hosting a discussion on the importance of BGLOs in celebration of Black History Month.
BGLOs, according to Phillips, are all about helping their surrounding community by participating in community service and inspiring a legacy of Black excellence.
Tomas Berhe, president of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc. Omicron Zeta Chapter and SF State’s NPHC president, is focusing on bringing the BGLOs together, both at SF State and other schools.
We’re going to continue to inspire others who come after us at the school to have this idea of Black people: we need to stick together, no matter the color, no matter the letters, because we’re Black first, we’re people of color first, we’re humans first.”
— Tomas Berhe
Currently, the NPHC Instagram is running a campaign called “Be owt Thursdays,” highlighting members across BGLOs at SF State. Being “owt” means to represent your organization in a significant way in your community.
According to Berhe, due to many of the chapters including schools beyond just SF State, there is a greater chance for event collaboration. The NPHC’s social media promotes events from all chapters and encourages anyone interested, even if not a member, to attend.
“We’re going to continue to inspire others who come after us at the school to have this idea of Black people: we need to stick together, no matter the color, no matter the letters, because we’re Black first, we’re people of color first, we’re humans first,” Berhe said.
There are nine BGLOs commonly referred to as the Divine Nine, and they make up the NPHC. At SF State, eight of the nine have active chapters.
Alaysia Pearce, a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. Eta Sigma Chapter and historian of SF State’s NPHC, said that the dynamic of the organization has changed because of the virtual setting that the pandemic has thrown them into. Though she said engagement hasn’t seemed to lessen; Establishing deeper connections with each other can be hard to do in an online setting.
To troubleshoot this issue, Pearce’s sorority is focusing on education through Zoom events, having held a seminar on maintaining workplace professionalism in an online setting, along with a book scholarship fund that ended recently. The fund provides two scholarships of $250 to both a SF State student and a University of San Francisco student to assist with buying books for classes.
She also stressed the collaborative aspect of BGLOs. “We try to engage a lot with the Black community on campus. Especially with the [Black Student Union]. The BSU is a very central organization that helps connect us all with one another,” Pearce said. “We’re able to share our history and really find ways to really connect with one another as far as our current experiences.”
Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc. Omicron Zeta Chapter has been able to adapt some of their service projects to work within the city’s COVID-19 precautions, hosting both clothing and toy drives last semester.
At the start of the pandemic, Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc. Pi Chi Chapter, in partnership with local non-profits, delivered meals to residents of the Bayview-Hunters Point District. The chapter also was able to distribute masks to frontline workers in downtown under the supervision of Shamann Walton, newly elected president of the SF Board of Supervisors and a brother of the fraternity.
“What Black organizations bring to the campus culture is just a sense of being Black and a sense of pride,” Phillips said. “The fact that you have people who look like us — especially within the Bay Area — with our numbers dwindling down.”
On Feb. 17, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi appointed Dr. Joseph Marshall, SF State alum and founder of the SF based nonprofit Alive & Free, to serve on the Commision on the Social Status of Black Men and Boys.The commission was established in August 2020, and is responsible for recommending policies that improve current social disparities affecting Black men. Marshall is a brother of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc.
Other notable individuals from the Bay Area affiliated with a BGLO include San Francisco Police Chief William “Bill” Scott and San Francisco Police Commissioner Dion-Jay Brookter, along with Kevin Williams and Shawn McGriff, who took part in the creation of the Black History Month parade in SF. Prominent women from the Bay Area affiliated with BGLOs include Vice President Kamala Harris and Mary Harvey, safety manager at Delta Diablo, a wastewater treatment plant.
Phillips said that the fraternity’s impact on him has revolved around seeing role models in his community succeed, along with being a part of an organization that is larger than just him.
“Being able to see great men in the community putting in work and volunteering and doing community service, as well as holding high positions… There’s been plenty of people that went through, you know, trials and triumphs… At the end of the day, I gotta persevere and keep fighting to live another day,” said Phillips.