On April 14th, 1973, 30 young Black men searching for community at Syracuse University banded together to reactivate the dormant Delta Zeta chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc. On April 22, 2023, 150 Alphas spanning the last 50 years of the Delta Zeta chapter gathered at Lubin House to celebrate that legacy.
“Those reactivating members of the Gold Line have an elevated place in the history of Delta Zeta chapter,” says journalist Rob Lewis ’84, who chaired the event along with James Fletcher ’75, a chief financial officer, and Phil Dunigan ’76, a retired physician. “We wanted to bring together as many members of the 1973 line as possible to celebrate their 50th anniversary.”
In addition to five decades of brotherhood, the event was attended by Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc. regional vice president Christopher Ellis Jr., who presented members of the Gold Line with their 50-year membership pins.
“The shared experience of getting ‘pinned’ for my 50th anniversary with seven of my line brothers in front of the whole chapter in New York was very special,” says Dunigan. “This is usually something that happens individually, as a footnote at a regional or national convention.”
Recognized at the ceremony as an honored guest was Charles Wright, who in 1973 served as an advisor along with Ozel Brazil and Richard Smith to guide the 30 aspirants and facilitate the reactivation. Brazil and Smith were honored posthumously, and their family members accepted plaques in their honor.
Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc. is the oldest Black Greek-letter fraternity in the United States, founded at Cornell University in 1906. The Iota chapter at Syracuse University chapter was initially founded in 1910 but suffered periods of inactivity and ultimately was dormant until reestablished as Delta Zeta chapter in 1949. The chapter fell inactive again until it was reactivated in 1973. That line and its 30 members marked a turning point, with the chapter remaining an active and vital part of the Syracuse University community and forever impacting the lives of the young men who became members.
Lewis says the vision for the event was to establish the connective tissue between the decades of brotherhood, with members from each decade reflecting on the contributions of the organization to the community and their own lives. Members of the Gold Line came from as far away as St. Thomas, Virgin Islands (attorney Douglas Capdeville ’74, G’77, L’77), and Olympia, Washington (Dunigan), for the event.
Dunigan, whose uncle had been an Alpha at Fordham University, says it was “an honor and necessary duty” to help reactivate the chapter in 1973 as there was a need on campus and in the regional community. Indeed, the reestablishment of Delta Zeta chapter spurred a reactivation of Alpha chapters throughout New York over the next two years, including Utica College, C.W. Post College and Hofstra University.
Gregory Brock ’76, a retired insurance executive who traveled with his wife to the event from Fort Myers, Florida, recalls not knowing much about fraternities before being urged by friends to join. “In retrospect, I can attribute many blessings in my life to being a member of Delta Zeta chapter and Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity,” he says. “To witness so many brothers from Delta Zeta chapter who continue to live out our mission every day in their personal and professional lives was great and it was energizing and reaffirming to know that Alpha is still well represented and leading on the SU campus.”
Although Fletcher had the opportunity to join the reactivating line in 1973, he initially deferred, but pledged the following year after watching brothers become active in student government and across campus. “They created a legacy that has been the bedrock of the chapter for 50 years, creating lifelong memories, friendships and commitment to the fraternity,” he says.
For Retired U.S. Air Force pilot Milton Johnson ’83, the event brought back many memories of college life. “When I look back, being a Dean of Pledges was special because it provided a key role in growing the fraternity,” he recalls. “We all form unique bonds but being the dean and bringing in new brothers taught me lessons that I’ve used in life far beyond Syracuse University.”
Lewis was one of those members initiated during Johnson’s tenure. Although he’d been integrally involved in its planning, he says the event “felt like joining ancestry.com and finding all these relatives you never knew you had,” Lewis says. “Part of our initiation required us to reflect on history, but now we got to connect actual people to names on an organization chart. It was very, very moving to bring the family back together.”
Educator Ronald Taylor ’15, G’16, says he considers Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc. the backbone of his personal development. When he heard the chapter was coming together to celebrate the 1973 line, he knew he had to be there. “This was probably the largest gathering of Syracuse brothers I have had the privilege to be part of,” he says. “It was a bit of a homecoming, seeing brothers who are my personal and professional mentors, including Charlie Lester ’81, Keith Brown ’82, Rob Lewis and Victor Holman ’82. My greatest takeaway was being able to spend time with and reflect on men who saw fit to invest in a rich tradition and legacy at Syracuse.”
Despite the reunion aspect to the evening, the event was equally impactful on collegiate members in attendance. Pierre was one of six undergraduates who traveled from campus for the event. “We have a moniker—DZ Rich Forever— meaning that the work that we do as Alphas transcends the four years that we are within this institution; we are Alphas in the world and the work that we do impacts lives beyond these four walls of our institution,” he says. “This is the first time I’ve been able to see that lineage in person, to see how our chapter exists within the world at large.”
For Pierre, an Our Time Has Come Scholar who served as Delta Zeta chapter president during 2022-23, meeting members of the 1973 line was the most memorable aspect of the event. “Often you don’t think about history when you’re in the act of making it,” he says. “I don’t think they knew 50 years ago that we would still be what we are today.”
According to members, the chapter’s intermittent dormancy through the years was largely related to enrollment and a lack of financial resources for Black students. In keeping with the fraternity’s service motto—“First of all, Servants of all, We shall transcend all”—Delta Zeta alumni presented a $100,000 check to Rachel Vassel ’91, G’21, associate vice president of multicultural advancement, to add to the existing Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc. Endowment within the Our Time Has Come Scholarship Fund, which provides need-based scholarships to underrepresented students.
“This was a real full-circle moment,” says Lewis. “We are not only keeping our organization moving forward but are accomplishing our goals of being fiscally responsible and paying it forward.”
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