Kappa Alpha Psi at UF: “An Oasis of Black Culture”

“What I so love about the chapter is its origin story. It is a story of the good that can be created in the world by a small group of young men who have purpose, empathy and vision,” said UF President Kent Fuchs at the 50th anniversary celebration of UF’s first black fraternity, the Zeta Phi Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi.

Kappa Alpha Psi at UF: “An Oasis of Black Culture”

On behalf of everyone at the University of Florida, I want to share my warm congratulations on your 50th anniversary. I applaud the Zeta Phi Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi for 50 great years. I applaud you for your leadership, for what you have built and achieved, and for your contributions to life at the university and to the careers and successes of so many students.

What I so love about the Zeta Phi chapter is its origin story. It is a story of courage and persistence. It is a story of the good that can be created in the world by a small group of young men who have purpose, empathy and vision.

Fifty years ago, in March of 1972, when these young men were in their teens or early 20s, UF was a place of frustration, anger and protest over the experiences of its Black students. It was the era of Black Thursday, when Black students were arrested for protesting in the president’s office, and when many others withdrew from the university in solidarity.

Amid these difficult times, these men stepped up. They were unable to create the Zeta Phi chapter in 1971 due to the arrests and withdrawals, but they returned to task and got it done in 1972.

With this achievement, they gave UF’s Black men a way to find and support each other in brotherhood, providing a resource that white male students had enjoyed for many generations -- but that had never before existed for Black male students at the state’s flagship university

The formation of the Zeta Phi chapter led to hope and to a path forward at a university that still felt segregated. This was clear from the very early days. An old edition of The Alligator, from April 8, 1974, ran a full-page feature with the headline, “Black fraternities: An oasis of black culture in a white desert.”

By 1974, according the article, there were four black fraternities at UF. The article features a beautiful photo of two smiling Zeta Phi chapter members on Turlington Plaza. The sense of relief and shared joy among those who spoke to the newspaper practically leaps off the page.

One Zeta Phi brother said of his fraternity, “We have our own culture, our own values and we do things differently. We are being ourselves and that’s where it’s at.”

“We are being ourselves.” In the ensuing years, the Kappa Alpha Psi Zeta Phi chapter strengthened and grew and became a vital part of UF, contributing through service and scholarship to students and the community. Many of its alumni went on to careers as leading figures in the legal profession, in the halls of government and in the private sector. “We are being ourselves,” indeed.

With your bold step in March of 1972, you blazed the trail for other Black fraternities and sororities at UF. I was pleased in January to celebrate the opening of the National Pan-Hellenic Council Garden, located at the east end of the Union Lawn. The garden permanently celebrates the legacies and ongoing contributions of UF’s “Divine Nine” Black fraternities and sororities.

We are privileged to have many of the founders, the pledge class known as “Hell in High Water 23 Deep,” here with us tonight. I’d like to read all of the founders’ names. After that, will ask those present to stand as a group so that we can cheer and thank them …

Alto Thomas, Bernard Cohen, Clarence Martin, Earnest Smith, Edward Massey

Eric Spears, Fredrick Gant, Heyward Johnson, James Knight, James Miller, Jenkins Rolle, Kenneth Spence, Leonard Spearman, Michael Jackson, Nathaniel Jenkins

Normon Cushon, Reginald Holmes, Ricardo Jackson, Rodney Ward

Samuel Wright, Skitch Holland, Steve Williams and Ulysses Barnes.

Would everyone present whose names I have read please stand? Ladies and gentlemen, will you join me in applauding “Hell In High Water 23 Deep?”

Thank you. Please be seated.

As I wrap up, I want to say very simply that UF is an immensely stronger and better university as a result of welcoming and supporting students from all races, ethnicities, backgrounds and walks of life. The Zeta Phi chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi has been vital to this outcome for Black students historically. It remains vital for them today. And it will continue to be vital in the lives of individuals, our community and our university long into the future.

UF is the University of Florida … but with your leadership, we are also a university of the human family, seeking and achieving betterment for all. Again, congratulations, and best wishes!