HISTORY OF IOTA PI CHAPTER, GRAND RAPIDS, MICHIGAN
Walter L. Burt, Ph.D.
Chapter Editor to the Oracle
Iota Pi Chapter of the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity resides in the City of Grand Rapids, Michigan. The chapter is situated in the second largest city in the State of Michigan. As of the 2010 Census, the City population was 188,040. Census data indicate that the Grand Rapids Metropolitan Area had a population of 774,160 and a combined statistical area, including Grand Rapids-Muskegon-Holland, population of 1,321,557. It is the county seat of Kent and the largest city in West Michigan. Grand Rapids is home to five of the world’s leading office furniture companies and is commonly named as “Furniture City”. The City of Grand Rapids, and surrounding communities, are economically diverse, and contribute heavily to the health care, automotive, aviation, and consumer goods manufacturing industries.
The Chapter was chartered in the City of Grand Rapids, Michigan on 9 March 1974 by then presiding Tenth District Representative, the late Bro. Burnel Coulon, of Indianapolis, Indiana. Eleven dedicated fraternity brothers came together to support the incorporation of this Chapter that was based upon the Fraternity’s four cardinal principles: Manhood, Scholarship, Perseverance, and Uplift. Officers that were selected for this newly established Chapter were:
James Walton – President
Cliff Cobbin – Vice-President
Dennis Booker, III – Keeper of Records and Seals
Vertlee Trice – Keeper of Finance
Albert Smith – Chaplain
Frank Williams – Advisor
Arthur Bivins – Member
LaDon Carneige – Member
During its inception, the Chapter felt compelled to concentrate its efforts on implementing the Fraternity’s national programs. Additionally, the Chapter coupled these initiatives with other existing programs and services that had been developed by local civic and social organizations. These initiatives included, but were not necessarily limited to, enhancing the matriculation of African American students in post-secondary institutions, with particular emphasis on increasing the enrollment of African American students in Historically-Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), supporting health care initiatives that would improve the quality of life and well-being of African Americans youth and adults, as well as including other groups considered “disadvantaged”, and participating in, and supporting, civic and community activities such as voter registration, NAACP, blood drives, mentoring students attending the Grand Rapids Public Schools, as well as other students in contiguous school districts.
The Chapter became inactive in 1976. The reason for this was primarily due to the exodus of highly skilled brothers that were allured to other promising career positions in other parts of the country. During the chapter’s hiatus, the remaining Brothers from within the chapter became familiar with new and incoming Brothers that had emigrated from other cities around the country. In communicating with these Brothers, it became obvious that there was an interest to become active with Iota Pi Chapter. Subsequently, a meeting was held in the home of the late Brother Frank Williams, the senior member of the Chapter, to discuss reactivating the Chapter.
Immediately thereafter, a petition was made to the Tenth District Representative (DR) on 15 February 1979. The DR gave his approval to “reactivate “the Chapter. After much deliberation, the Brothers supported a slate of officers they felt would lead the Chapter to greater heights and successful program outcomes. The officers selected were:
Walter L. Burt, Basileus
Albert Smith, Vice-Basileus
Vertlee Trice, Keeper of Records and Seals
Alexander Thomas, Keeper of Finance
Sidney Bailey, III, Editor to the Oracle
Frank Williams, Advisor
Randall Burt, Member
Dennis Booker, Member
Since 1979, the Chapter has maintained an active status at the National and Tenth District levels. Additionally, it is important to mention that the Chapter continues to face the challenge of in-and out-migration of Fraternity members. This phenomenon is due, in part, to a myriad of issues including, but not limited to, employment opportunities in the southwest portion of the United States, Michigan’s inclement weather and disproportionately low representation of African Americans serves as factors that may hinder a person’s decision to locate to this area. Despite these challenges, the Chapter has earned the respect of being a viable and respected fraternity in the greater Grand Rapids community and the Tenth District. In addition, the Chapter has hosted two successful Tenth District Meeting.
The Brothers of Iota Pi Chapter is well-represented in professional corporations, businesses, and organizations. Due to this representation, Chapter brothers are well-poised to influence the decision-making process in many different venues in fields such as medicine, business, city government, the military, education, and non-profit organizations. This representation has afforded the Chapter to sponsor and/or support community functions such as Thanksgiving and Christmas programs, gifts to families in need during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, walkathons, participated and sponsored activities associated with the Grand Rapids African American Health Initiative (GRAAHI), Scholarship Drives, a sponsor to the Omega Boy and Cub Scouts Troop in Grand Rapids, the Black Male Leadership Initiative, Pan-Hellenic Council Activities, Iota Pi Chapter Annual Golf Scholarship Outing, etc. In addition to this, the Chapter sponsors its Annual Purple Carpet Scholarship Ball. At this event, the Chapter awards scholarships to deserving students that meet one of the Fraternity’s Cardinal Principle, Scholarship. At this event, the Chapter recognizes community leaders that have made significant contributions to the Greater Grand Rapids Community, particularly in matters that improve the quality of life for African American families, in particular, and other families that fall into the category of “disadvantaged”. Finally, the Chapter also recognizes community agencies, as well as fraternity members, for their unselfish commitment and dedication to the Fraternity.
The Chapter also established the Omega Uplift Foundation, a 501 (c) 3 organization in September 2014. The Omega Uplift Foundation is conducted as an arm to the Iota Pi Chapter. The Foundation is a non-profit corporation and operates exclusively in the realm of supporting the cardinal principles of the Fraternity. In this matter, the Omega Uplift foundation is committed to uplifting young and adult Black men to be scholars, good citizens, and fathers by supporting them with activities that contribute to their educational growth, health awareness, and value to the family and community. Through the Foundation, Iota Pi raises and contributes funds for programs and materials for academic development, fatherhood, mentorships, citizenship, and other activities that contribute to the well-being of young and adult Black males in the Greater Grand Rapids Area. A future goal of the Foundation is to raise funds that will create an endowment for academic scholarships.
In 1974, undergraduate students from Grand Valley State University (GVSU) approached the Chapter about assisting them in developing an undergraduate chapter on their campus. This request was based upon the fact that GVSU was a predominantly white institution (PWI) and they had no interest in joining any of these fraternities. These students specifically had an interest in joining the OMEGA PSI PHI FRATERNITY, Inc. Iota Pi Chapter petitioned its State Representative, and subsequently, with the approval of the District Representative, a pledge line was created specifically for undergraduate students attending GVSU. This relationship was established between GVSU and Iota Pi Chapter until such time that the chapter had the requisite number of fraternity members to establish a chapter on their campus. To date, there has not been enough members established on campus to establish a chapter. Notwithstanding, Iota Pi initiated two pledgees in 1982. Since that time, there have been 18 pledge lines and 76 pledgees initiated into the Fraternity. The Chapter is committed to supporting undergraduate students at GVSU in attaining a chapter on their campus.
In closing, Iota Pi is a flourishing and active Chapter in the Greater Grand Rapids Area. It is a highly visible, respected and committed professional organization. The Chapter, consisting of 25 active brothers, and its corresponding 501 (c) 3 non-profit organization designation, helps to support the needs of African American students, and students from other “disadvantaged” groups, in attaining a better quality of life in the Greater Grand Rapids community.