Celebrating 75 Years of Brotherhood

Group of Alpha Phi Alpha Alumni

Spanning five decades of membership, initiates of the Delta Zeta chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc. traveled from across the country and the Caribbean to celebrate the chapter’s 75th charter anniversary on April 14. From the moment brothers began arriving in Syracuse, their camaraderie and bond was evident.

 “There’s a wealth of knowledge and personalities that you can connect with at an event like this,” says Patrick Saint-Tulias ’14. “So, in addition to reconnecting with classmates, it was fantastic to get to know older brothers and realize how much we had in common and to be inspired by the young people on campus now.”

“Being able to speak to individuals of different ages, from different time periods, who experienced campus in a different light, was a really beautiful thing to be a part of,” says TySean Canada ’23.

“It was just a lot of fun,” adds Richard Spears ’84, a member of the planning committee. “Whether you graduated in 1980 or 2010, there was a lot intermingling and fellowship across generations.”

That was the goal for Rob Lewis ‘84, who chaired the event with his own personal theme of Bridging the Gap in mind. “I wrote it on a cocktail napkin many months ago,” he says. “It was never published anywhere, but that is what I wanted us to accomplish.”

The Delta Zeta chapter is part of a fraternal bond that began at Cornell University in 1906, when seven young Black men formed Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc. as a study and support group, a balm to the segregation and social isolation they experienced. The organization spread to nearby colleges with the ninth chapter, Iota, chartered at Syracuse University in 1910.

Due to low number of Black students on campus, the Iota chapter disbanded in 1923. In 1949, with a growth in undergraduate enrollment post World War II, the Delta Zeta chapter was chartered.

“When I think back to what the racial climate must have been like for those men, and them coming together to support themselves through school and maneuver through America professionally, I think it’s significant that we all come from that legacy,” says Saint-Tulias.

The Delta Zeta chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc. has been named the “Most Community Service Oriented Fraternity” four times by the Syracuse University NAACP. The chapter was also recognized as both the 1979 Eastern Chapter of the Year and the 1980 National Chapter of the Year. The chapter has produced a National Brother of the Year (Ronald Taylor ’15, G’16 in 2015), two New York State College Brothers of the Year (David Watkins ’88 in 1989 and Arthur Vaughn ’92 in 1992) and two assistant vice presidents of the national organization (Jonathan Leon ’xx, 2010-11 and Christopher Alexander ’xx, 2011-12).

Following a soggy round of golf on Friday morning, more than 100 brothers converged on the Quad on Friday afternoon to pay homage to that history with an unveiling and dedication ceremony for a plaque recognizing both the Delta Zeta Chapter and the 1909 Iota Chapter that preceded it.

“Bearing witness to the first time that the brotherhood was able to have brothers from the 1973 Golden Line that reestablished Delta Zeta Chapter at Syracuse University thru our neophyte brother who was initiated in the spring 2024, bridging the gap of the last 50 years of brotherhood, was an amazing experience,” says Jason Foy ’91, a member of the planning committee. 

The plaque was a replacement for one installed on the Orange Grove in 2016, which had only recognized the Delta Zeta chapter. For Charlie Lester ’80, who has conducted extensive research on Alpha Phi Alpha members at Syracuse, that omission needed correction.

“These young men came from all over the country and even the Caribbean to get an education and went on to do wonderful things at a very difficult time in the United States,” he says. “Their history is our history, and it was important to honor those men.”

Lester led the rededication ceremony along with Lewis and Felix James ’81, who funded the new plaque.

Following a Meet and Greet social on Friday evening, brothers returned to campus on Saturday for a chapter meeting, led by current president Didier “DJ” Dumervil ’25, who recognized all of the men who have preceded him in the chapter and the alumni support that helps keep the chapter alive.

“It was a moving and powerful experience,” says Alex Sepulveda ’93, a member of the planning committee. “Although there are currently only three active members on campus, now they were in the presence of 100. We want to make sure our undergraduates have the benefit of our experience in the fraternity, but also as men of color, that we support each other and that they can lean on us for guidance.”

Sharing a common space and experience with brothers from throughout the chapter’s rich lineage was perhaps most impactful on Jamie Sterling ’26, Delta Zeta’s newly initiated active brother. “It was very special to be embraced and celebrated by my new family,” he says. “As a result, it has had a large impact on the way I will now carry myself because I know the type of team I have supporting me from the background.”

After attending the campus step show—where alumni spontaneously joined college brothers on stage for a performance reminiscent of a Wu-Tang concert—chapter members donned their tuxedos for the evening gala, the pinnacle event of the reunion. In addition to chapter members and spouses, the event was attended by members of the national fraternity board, including president-elect Lucien Metellus ’97, Sean McCaskill, executive director, and Christopher Ellis Jr., eastern region vice president, who bestowed 50 and 25-year pins on the honorees.

“Celebrating 75 years is not only a story of longevity, but also a real contribution to the Syracuse University campus and Syracuse community,” says Metellus. “The chapter has transformed Syracuse in so many ways by being mission focused. I am grateful for the impact they have had.”

The evening was chock full of poignant moments. Five members of the spring 1974 line received 50-year pins: Ronald Coleman ’76, Sylvester Johnson ’77, Leonard Robbins ’79, Donald Rivas ’80 and Nate Boyer ‘77, whose father Ralph Boyer ’50, G’52 was a Delta Zeta founding member in 1949.

A walk-on to the football team, Boyer had not planned to join a fraternity. Nonetheless, he joined Alpha Phi Alpha at the request of his dying father. Boyer says becoming part of the Magnificent Seven line had a huge influence on his college experience and beyond. “There were a lot of distractions in the ‘70s but the fraternity provided great role models. If you had a problem, there was someone you could go to,” he says. “To be part of a successful group of Black men who are supportive of each other and reaching back to help the next generation is a powerful thing and I would encourage young men today to consider joining.”

Memorial recognition was given to recently deceased members including Winston Farmer ’78 and Dominic Bioh ’92, led by Sepulveda and Foy. “The moment of reflection greatly moved me when brothers spontaneously began to call out the names of deceased brothers who influenced them while at Syracuse and after,” says Foy.

Finally, a few brothers were honored for their exceptional service to the chapter. Canada, who graduated just last year, received the Brotherhood Achievement Award for his continued support of the undergraduate chapter. Lewis, who has led the chapter’s alumni association for the last three years was surprised with the Alumni Brother of the Year Award and Lester was honored for his decades of service with a Lifetime Brotherhood Award.

“The ballroom erupted with brothers chanting his name and Charlie was encircled with love and appreciation for his contributions,” says Lewis. “I don’t think there was a dry eye in the room.”

Since moving back to Syracuse in the late 1980s, Lester has been an integral advisor to the Delta Zeta chapter, both formally and informally. As the official advisor for eight years, he attended every chapter meeting and event, often until late in the evening. For some years, he was concurrently advising the Alpha Phi Alpha chapter at SUNY Oswego. Outside of that capacity, he has always been available to assist active brothers with a ride, meal or counsel, or to help with special events.

“It was so loud, I could barely think, but what came to mind was the many people who had come before me, that had mentored me and supported me,” says Lester, who will receive his 50-year pin next spring. “It was a surprise and I’m appreciative of the accolade, but the most important part is the work we do and the people who work alongside me. I love my brothers and they love me.”

Lester had been charged with organizing the reunion’s final event, a Sunday worship service at Bethany Baptist Church, the site of one of the fraternity’s most famous national programs in the 1920s, Go to High School, Go to College, and the church many members attended while in college. After giving praise, members headed back to their home communities armed with full hearts, warm memories and new friendships.

But that’s not the end of the celebration. Delta Zeta members plan to host an anniversary reception during the Coming Back Together (CBT) Reunion so that their history can be recognized by other Divine Nine members and friends. And they plan to add to their legacy with a special gift at the CBT Gala.

Just a year ago, the chapter held an event at Lubin House to honor the Golden Line of men who re-activated a then-dormant chapter in 1973. To mark that occasion, they presented a check for $100,000 to the Our Time Has Come Scholarship Fund. Nonetheless, the chapter has set a goal to raise an additional $75,000 by CBT.

“We’re asking 75 brothers to commit an additional $1,000 each,” says Spears, who co-chairs the Alpha Phi Alpha Endowment effort. “We’ve commissioned a 75th Anniversary commemorative coin that will be given to brothers as encouragement and as a ‘thank you’ for contributing to this worthy endeavor that directly benefits our undergraduate members who apply for the OTHC scholarship.”

Dr. Phillip Dunigan ’76, who lives near Seattle, has attended many fraternity gatherings through the years across the country but had not been back to campus since his graduation nearly 50 years ago. He plans to be back in September for CBT. “I met so many people. I think I smiled ear-to-ear the entire weekend,” he says. “I want to continue to celebrate our legacy.”