Saturday, February 11, 2012

Gamma Pi Chapter Leads Omega Psi Phi's Salute to Forgotten Woman of Black History

Mockup of the Nannie Helen Burroughs AAA Member Card
It may seem unusual that a fraternity would lead the way in honoring the legacy of a sorority woman. But when it comes to Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc. and Gamma Pi chapter specifically, that is not unusual at all. Two of the four Cardinal Principles of the Fraternity -- Scholarship and Uplift -- don't have gender-eligibility requirements when it comes to who Omega serves. That was evident today as The Super Chapter observed Black History Month  by joining forces with the American Automobile Association to honor the work and legacy of Nannie Helen Burroughs.

Who is Nannie Helen Burroughs? An overlooked African American civil rights advocate and religious and education figure, she lived in the early 1900s in Washington, D.C. She was president of the Baptist Women's Convention and established a school for Negro girls in the city in 1909. The school and a street are named in her honor in The Nation's Capitol and that is really the extent to which most people in the metro area know her. She is also an honorary member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority.

Gamma Pi's involvement in today's program is tied to the passion and perseverance of Brother James E. Wyatt, a 62-year-member of the Fraternity and a retired U.S. Army Colonel. Brother Wyatt has spent his years since retirement from the military researching Nannie Helen Burroughs' background and persuading AAA and others to give her proper respect and attention, even if posthumously. AAA's role as a partner with Gamma Pi and Omega Psi Phi is even more interesting. It is the result of Brother Wyatt's research in which he discovered, through a Library of Congress letter, that Nannie Helen Burroughs was mysteriously denied a $12 AAA membership in 1930 during a time when she was very outspoken to the President of the United States about "the plight of the Negro in America."

An Omega Man, Bro. Col. (Ret.) James E. Wyatt, Paves the Way

Bro. Col. (Ret.) Wyatt with Nannie Helen Burroughs Display
Early today, Brother Wyatt's work and tireless dedication resulted in a powerful, moving and informative Black History Month tribute to Nannie Helen Burroughs at Charles Herbert Flowers High School in Springdale, Md. The tribute was conducted as part of the chapter's signature educational program --Project ENRICH, a four-year program for Prince George's County students beginning in ninth grade during which they participate in once-a-month lectures, seminars and academic enrichment sessions at Bowie State University as preparation for college. Some of the students alo receive scholarship monies. Students from the Nannie Helen Burroughs School were also in attendance.

Brother Willie Hines is director of Project ENRICH and worked closely with Bro. Wyatt and AAA to merge the two efforts together to serve a double-edged purpose: to correct a wrong in Black history and use it as a "teachable moment" to imbue program youths with the values that Nannie Helen Burroughs espoused.

The highlight of the tribute -- which captured the interest of local media in attendance -- was the symbolic presentation of Nannie Helen Burroughs' long-overdue AAA membership card posthumously on stage. AAA officials flew in from Florida to make the presentation. Local Nannie Helen Burroughs historian Dr. Traki Taylor-Webb served as the "stand-in" for the late Ms. Burroughs in receiving the membership card, and she in turn presented the symbolic membership card to Brother Wyatt as a token for his efforts.

Bro. Col. (Ret.) Wyatt and Bro. Willie Hines prep on stage
Like many people, including many who know their civil rights history, AAA spokeswoman Yolanda Cade said today to the audience: "I had never heard of Nannie Helen Burroughs...but what she was saying was work hard, be proud and lift others up with you."

Iconic NBC newsman Tom Brokaw, author of the best-selling "The Greatest Generation," even sent a personal note to Brother Col. Wyatt that was read at the program: "We must all commit to the values Nannie Helen Burroughs personified."

Honoring Nannie Helen Burroughs Through the Voices of Our Youth

Adding depth and emotion to the program and to Nannie Helen Burroughs' values and legacy were the convincing and heartfelt testimonials of several Project ENRICH students, who spoke onstage about their experience in the program and how they have benefited from Project ENRICH.  One parent, Ms. Najmah Bass, represented other parents with children in Project ENRICH with a heart-rendering account of how the program has helped her children grow into better students and better people.

A view of the dais - a fabulous historic program
"My participation in this program has given me the tools to embark on a journey of success that is now easier for me to attain," said one of the students.

Gamma Pi has close to 100 youths participating in the 2011-12 version of Project ENRICH. Following the Black History Month program, the students and others willing to stay were treated to a more in-depth look at Nannie Helen Burroughs' life by Brother Col. Wyatt via a PowerPoint presentation.

AAA ended the ceremony with a formal presentation to Bro. Wyatt and Gamma Pi Basileus Bro. Gordon Everett, giving them a souvenir copy of the AAA membership card.

Others involved in this historic program were Omega Psi Phi's Second District Representative, Brother Kenneth E. Rodgers, who is the elected head of the Fraternity in Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania; Ms. Sylvia Cyrus, Executive Director of Association for the Study of African American Life and History; Burroughs School principal Ms. Rita Johnson; and Rev. James Coates, Pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church and a pallbearer for Nannie Helen Burroughs in 1961.

Today's program will go down in Gamma Pi and Omega Psi Phi history as one of the most inspirational and uplifting ever held, truly in the spirit of 100 years - something the Founders would have cheered from the front row. Enjoy the video highlights below and the photos from Bro. Thaddeus Turner.

Additional Resources:
Gamma Pi Press Release (distributed to local media)
More about Project ENRICH (
AAA article about Omega-Burroughs Event on PR Newswire

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