When Hurricane Harvey rolled through Houston causing massive destruction, the men of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity stepped up to the plate to help the community rebuild.
“We’re unique men who feel the need to help others. Our constant goal is to make sure mankind is doing better,” said Jeffery Williams, who serves as the Life Membership Board Regional Director for the Ninth District (Omega chapters in Texas, Louisiana and Arkansas).
Williams also leads the Houston coalition of area Omegas, which is hosting their regional convention in Houston on March 21-25. (More than 3,000 members are expected to attend the conference). The Coalition began as a way to work together on programs and activities mandated by the fraternity and consists of seven graduate chapters (Nu Phi-Houston, Theta Chi-Prairie View, Rho Beta Beta-Houston, and Rho Xi-Freeport, Rho Nu – Galveston, Alpha Mu Mu – College Station, and Mu Mu Nu – Conroe, TX) and five undergraduate chapters: Tau Epsilon (Texas Southern University), Omega Theta (University of Houston), Rho Theta (Prairie View A&M University), Eta Mu (Sam Houston State University) and Nu Delta Delta (Texas A&M University). Rho Nu (Galveston) joined the coalition to comprise 10 chapters.
While many people know the “Ques” as they’re called for their ability to throw off-the-chain parties and step, Williams said service is really at the core of everything they do.
“There is a lot more to it than that,” Williams said. “It’s about service. It’s all about helping men become better men.”
“Yes, we have a good time, but what we do goes so much more deeper than that,” added Marvin Alexander Jr., Southwest Texas State Representative. “We have a Thanksgiving Meal on Wheels, Achievement Week, where we work with high school students, the Charles R. Drew Blood Drive, Real Men Read, where we partner with local schools to read to students, and that’s just a few of the things we do.”
For Antonio Brown, a 15-year member of the fraternity and basileus (president) of the Rho Beta Beta Chapter, joining Omega simply meant that he could continue the foundation his parents had laid.
“The principles we stand for are right in line with everything I believe in,” Brown said. “The good things we do for our community is right in line with how I was raised. Our organization promotes ‘manhood, scholarship, perseverance and uplift.’ That’s what we’re all about.”
Brown said the organization is committed to future generations and a leaving legacy that uplifts the Black community.
“This is important. We understand the village mentality,” Brown said. “If we know that we’re responsible for each person next to us, we tend to do better. We tend to make sure we’re doing the right thing in that person’s presence. And not just when we’re there but even when they’re not.”
Omega Signature Events
Go Western Scholarship Dance
The dance, established in 1961, was generally held on the third Saturday of February. This Go-Western gala hosted by Nu Phi has been considered the oldest, longest-standing, Black Go-Western in the Greater Houston area. The proceeds generated from this affair are used to provide scholarships and to support the numerous community programs that the Chapter conducts and sponsors.
Annual Boat Ride
Boat Rides have been a part of Omega’s history for a long time. The first Houston-area Omega Boat Ride took place in 1987, “Moonlight Cruise with the Ques.” Nu Phi and Theta Chi jointly sponsor a Memorial Day cruise, which leaves from Galveston, where patrons loaded up at the San Jacinto Battleground to enjoy a five hour cruise and dinner. Rho Beta Beta sponsors a Labor Day event.
Achievement Week is observed each November and is designed to recognize those individuals at the local and international levels who have contributed to community uplift. A High School Essay Contest is held in conjunction with Achievement Week.
*Not a comprehensive list
Omega Psi Phi was organized Friday on Nov. 17, 1911 in the office of Ernest Everett Just, a professor of biology at Howard University in Washington, D.C. The organizers were three juniors in the College of Liberal Arts: Edgar Amos Love, Oscar James Cooper, and Frank Coleman. They envisioned a creative idealistic national organization that would unite thousands or young men in aim, thought and loyalty.
They selected the name of the organization, Omega Psi Phi, represented by three Greek letters which mean, “Friendship is Essential to the Soul.” The meaning of the letters was adopted as the fraternity ‘s motto. “Manhood, Scholarship, Perseverance and Uplift” were adopted as the fraternity’s cardinal principles
From Maine to Hawaii, thousands of students planned to stage walkouts Wednesday to protest gun violence, one month after the deadly shooting inside a high school in Parkland, Florida.
Organizers say nearly 3,000 walkouts are set in the biggest demonstration yet of the student activism that has emerged following the massacre of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
Students from the elementary to college level are taking up the call in a variety of ways. Some planned roadside rallies to honor shooting victims and protest violence. Others were to hold demonstrations in school gyms or on football fields. In Massachusetts and Ohio, students said they’ll head to the statehouse to lobby for new gun regulations.
The coordinated walkout was organized by Empower, the youth wing of the Women’s March, which brought thousands to Washington, D.C., last year. The group urged students to leave class at 10 a.m. local time for 17 minutes — one minute for each victim in the Florida shooting.
Although the group wanted students to shape protests on their own, it also offered them a list of demands for lawmakers, including a ban on assault weapons and mandatory background checks for all gun sales.
“Our elected officials must do more than tweet thoughts and prayers in response to this violence,” the group said on its website.
It’s one of several protests planned for coming weeks. The March for Our Lives rally for school safety is expected to draw hundreds of thousands to the nation’s capital on March 24, its organizers said. And another round of school walkouts is planned for April 20, the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting in Colorado.
After the walkout Wednesday, some students in Massachusetts say they plan to rally outside the Springfield headquarters of the gun maker Smith & Wesson. Students and religious leaders are expected to speak at the rally and call on the gun maker to help curb gun violence.
At Case Elementary School in Akron, Ohio, a group of fifth-graders have organized a walkout with the help of teachers after seeing parallels in a video they watched about youth marches for civil rights in 1963. Case instructors said 150 or more students will line a sidewalk along a nearby road, carrying posters with the names of Parkland victims.
The walkouts have drawn support from companies including media conglomerate Viacom, which said it will pause programming on MTV, BET and all its other networks for 17 minutes during the walkouts, and students will temporarily take over MTV’s social media accounts.
The planned protests have drawn mixed reactions from school administrators. While some applaud students for taking a stand, others threatened discipline. Districts in Sayreville, New Jersey, and Maryland’s Harford County drew criticism this week when they said students could face punishment for leaving class.
In suburban Atlanta, one of Georgia’s largest school systems announced that students who participate might face unspecified consequences.
But some vowed to walk out anyway.
“Change never happens without backlash,” said Kara Litwin, a senior at Pope High School in the Cobb County School District.
The possibility of being suspended “is overwhelming, and I understand that it’s scary for a lot of students,” said Lian Kleinman, a junior at Pope High.
“For me personally this is something I believe in, this is something I will go to the ends of the Earth for,” Kleinman said.
Other schools sought a middle ground, offering “teach-ins” or group discussions on gun violence. Some worked with students to arrange protests in safe locations on campus. Officials at Boston Public Schools said they arranged a day of observance Wednesday with a variety of activities “to provide healthy and safe opportunities for students to express their views, feelings and concerns.” Students who don’t want to participate could bring a note from a parent to opt out.
Meanwhile, free speech advocates geared up for a battle. The American Civil Liberties Union issued advice for students who walk out, saying schools can’t legally punish them more harshly because of the political nature of their message. In Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Texas, some lawyers said they will provide free legal help to students who are punished.
On Tuesday, President Donald Trump announced new leadership for the White House Initiative on HBCUs.
Johnny C. Taylor Jr. is now the new Chairman of the President’s Board of Advisors on the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities. This position comes not long after Taylor was appointed to be the president and CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) in June of last year. Taylor is the former president of Thurgood Marshall College Fund.
At the White House event announcing the new leadership, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos praised HBCUs for their cultural and historical significance in her remarks ahead of Trump.
“HBCUs play a very important role in American education,” she said, according to CBS News.“Under President Trump’s leadership in supporting and uplifting HBCUs, we are taking important steps to ensure that HBCUs and the students they serve remain influential players in their communities and in our country.”
DeVos then introduced Trump, who touted the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities and thanked the team working on the initiative.
Trump also praised HBCUs as being “cherished and vital.” A White House press release notes that Trump’s proposed 2018 and 2019 budgets maintain funding for HBCUs.
Taylor offered his own words about the appointment. “Every year, over 300,000 students turn to these institutions for their education and to prepare them for their careers. This president’s advisory board can be a nexus between higher educational institutions and employers,” he said.
DeVos and Trump have a rock relationship with HBCUs
We’re not fooled by Trump and DeVos making a big show of their support for HBCUs.
We haven’t forgotten the fact that DeVos called HBCUs “pioneers of choice” and had to issue an apology for her comments.
“When I talked about it being a pioneer in choice it was because I acknowledge that racism was rampant and there were no choices,” she said in August after her comments caused massive backlash. “These HBCUs provided choices for Black students that they didn’t have.”
Some HBCU students did not accept the apology. In May of 2017, Bethune-Cookman University students booed DeVos and turned their backs to her as she tried to give remarks during their graduation ceremony.
We also haven’t forgotten that infamous picture of Trump surrounded by HBCU presidents in what turned out to be more of a photo opportunity than an actual productive meeting.
DEFENDER NEWS NETWORK — More than half of Texas public school students are in districts that don’t require teachers to be certified, according to state officials, due to a recent law giving schools more freedom on educational requirements.
A 2015 law lets public schools access exemptions from requirements such as teacher certification, school start dates and class sizes — the same exemptions allowed for open enrollment charter schools. Using a District of Innovation plan, districts can create a comprehensive educational program and identify provisions under Texas law that would inhibit their goals.
Data from the Texas Education Agency found that 604 rural and urban districts with innovation plans have received an exemption from teacher certification so far. Texas Association of School Boards spokesperson Dax Gonzalez said most of those districts are using the exemption so industry specialists — such as engineers, nurses and law enforcement officials — can offer hands-on learning to students in career and technology classes.
But the move has some education experts worried that districts are laying the groundwork for having uncertified teachers handle core subjects like math, science and language arts, despite a promise not to do so. Although uncertified educators have been able to teach core classes through waivers and permits, those are approved on a case-by-case basis.
Usually, in order to teach in Texas classrooms, candidates must obtain certification by earning a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university, completing an educator preparation program, passing the appropriate teacher certification exams, being fingerprinted for a national criminal background check and submitting a state application.
In Harlingen Consolidated Independent School District, Tim Soto is one of eight uncertified teachers, all responsible for career and technology courses. The electronic technician was hired to teach classes on hands-on tool usage and safety and electrical field practices.
This is Soto’s first year as a teacher, but he has worked for Harlingen CISD for 26 years as an apprentice electrician and a technology specialist. Soto, a college graduate, said he “jumped at the chance” to to give back to the district. And, he said, he’s received nothing but support from other teachers and his students’ parents in creating his curriculum.
“I was nervous, but things just fell into place,” Soto said. “I’ve found that my years of experience are invaluable for students. Instead of having them just read out of a textbook, I can show them how to use the proper tools and help them avoid making mistakes as an apprentice.”
But districts aren’t required to limit the exemption to only career and technology courses. The blanket certification exemption legally allows them to hire uncertified teachers for staple classes like Algebra I or Biology, and even for special education or early childhood classes.
“We don’t want it to expand,” said Kate Kuhlmann, a lobbyist with the Association of Texas Professional Educators. “There are a lot of people that have great content knowledge, but it’s also really important they have a strong understanding of and training in what it means to be a teacher.”
Because there are already avenues around teacher certification — such as waivers and permits that have to be accepted by TEA, the commissioner of education or the school board — a broader exemption should not be necessary, said Texas State Teachers Association spokesperson Clay Robison. Robison called the innovation plan exemption a way for districts to “cut corners” without the same accountability.
Many states have responded to a national teacher shortage by allowing emergency-type hires, said Desiree Carver-Thomas, a research and policy associate with the Learning Policy Institute, a nonprofit research organization based in California. More than 100,000 teachers were unqualified based on their state’s certification standards, according to data between 2015 and 2017, Carver-Thomas said.
But Texas exemption standards are among the broadest nationally, Kuhlmann said. Many states just offer permits or waivers for districts that need to fill classrooms with uncertified teachers. And while states like Kansas and Alabama have innovation district models that offer a teacher certification exemption, Kuhlmann said they have built-in parameters for how many districts can qualify and what classes fall under the exemption.
Still, receiving a response for case-by-case applications in Texas can take nearly a month, and there’s always the possibility of being rejected. And unlike the permit or waiver process, choosing exemptions under a District of Innovation plan involves community input, two-thirds buy-in from the district’s board of trustees and approval from a district-level decision-making committee, said Bruce Gearing, Dripping Springs ISD’s superintendent.
Gearing said he doesn’t foresee his district hiring uncertified teachers outside of career and technical education. Even if that need arises, he said, the district would have to go through a public amendment process to change the implementation of the teacher certification exemption.
“It’s about trust,” Gonzalez, the TASB spokesperson, said. “You either trust local school boards and administrations to go out and find the best teachers for students, or you don’t. And again, this exemption just allows a flexibility that charter schools already have.”