Home Again: 40 Years Later

It’s time to Break It Down!

Thomas Wolfe, a fellow North Carolinian, and University of North Carolina (UNC) alumnus, is considered North Carolina’s most famous writer. In 1940, two years after his death, Edward Aswell, his last editor, published Wolfe’s novel, “You Can’t Go Home Again,” posthumously. Wolfe, who entered UNC as a freshman at 15 graduated with a B.A. in 1920, and that same year entered the Graduate School for Arts and Sciences at Harvard University, from which he graduated in 1922 with a master’s degree.

Wolfe signature writing style is best characterized as autobiographical fiction. In many instances stories such as the ones Wolfe wrote are preceded by disclaimers such as, “the names of the characters have been changed to protect the innocent.” Indeed, folks in Asheville, North Carolina, Wolfe’s hometown, were often upset with the writer. The offended and those who subsequently disparaged him were known to include members of his own family.

It is with this reckoning as a backdrop that I draw inspiration for today’s title. Respectfully, I must disagree with Mr. Wolfe. The phrase you can’t go home again has become enmeshed into the American lexicon and typically is understood to convey how nostalgia denotes at once both an inaccurate positive bias as well as an inability to appreciate the changes wrought by time on places and people we tend to recall in static and permanent ways. In the World according to Wolfe, attempts to relive fleeting youthful memories are simply incapable of matching the originals.

Based on Wolfe’s personal experience, he really did find returning to Asheville a dicey proposition. While it is fair to note that his actions (specifically his writing) created the dynamic that made the prospect of returning to his hometown an uncomfortable one. I’m pleased to note the record shows he did eventually return. The irony of the prickly feelings is that when Wolfe, in a later novel, did not employ depictions of his homies, they were equally upset. But I’m digressing now.

This past weekend I returned home, in a manner of speaking. Forty years ago I was in the midst of spending two academic school years and the summer in between in Chapel Hill, matriculating at the University of North Carolina where I earned an advanced degree in planning. Right here, right now, I can stipulate fully and unconditionally that the two years I spent in Chapel Hill, and the three years before that I spent in Fayetteville matriculating at Fayetteville State University (FSU) were without question five of the best years of my life.

Earning two college degrees was the business at hand, and as my father surely appreciated, I completed that business ahead of schedule and under budget. The degrees served me well during my nearly 35-year long career in public service. I acquired the necessarily arrayed skillset for my toolkit that enabled me to formulate a vitae that served as the lever to open up a career path that sustained me for three and a half decades of succeeding at seeking, acquiring, maintaining and successfully executing increasing responsible jobs and responsibilities.

But college is more than books, studying, testing, and moving on to next level courses. Don’t get me wrong; they are of first order priority. They are just not all there is. I formed friendships in college with people from all over America, and a number of individuals from other countries. I still maintain many of those friendships today. I participated in extra-curricular activities, social clubs, and an honor society as a part of fully engaging in campus community life.

Of all the associations and organizations in which I partook while in college, the most notable was the fraternity I joined, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. I know a lot of folks don’t get the whole Black Greek Letter Organization (BGLO) shtick. I understand, starting with the clarification that they are not Greek Organizations, or Black Greek Organizations for that matter. The appropriation of Ethiopian (African) culture is a subject that could consume an entire blog. Perhaps that will serve as fodder for another day.

In 1973 I pledged Alpha. Today the very term pledge is an anachronism. It was a process that was phased out, beginning in the 80’s due to being conflated with hazing. While examples of underground or offline pledging can still be cited, none of the organizations in the Divine Nine approve of or authorize such activity. Again, I digress. I was initiated into the Epsilon Zeta (EZ) Chapter of the Fraternity on December 1, 1973. Thus began a life journey that continues to this day. EZ was the 316th Chapter in the Fraternity. It was established at FSU November 3, 1958 at FSU.

When I arrived in Chapel Hill in August of 1975, aside from adapting to a new college town, a significantly larger university, populated primarily by the dominant culture, unlike FSU, figuring out how to most efficiently traverse the distance between my Graduate Dorm (Craige Hall) and New East, which houses the Department of City and Regional Planning, and figuring out where I would eat on a regular basis, seeking out the community of Alpha men was among my high priorities. I quickly discerned that my current situation (at that time) was a good news/bad news scenario. The good news was there were quite a few Alphas on campus. The bad news was there was no Chapter of the Fraternity at the University; we were all enrolled in Graduate and Professional Schools. This was problematic. Fortunately, three of us had come from FSU, two to pursue degrees in planning, and one in business. We quickly pulled together the threshold number of Brothers necessary to initiate a serious discussion about establishing a Chapter on UNC’s campus.

Working with the State’s District Director, we completed the prerequisites and by the Spring Semester we introduced the first Line of Alpha Phi Alpha at UNC. On April 15, 1976, The Sensational Sixteen Stepmasters entered the House of Alpha becoming the organization’s 447th Chapter, Mu Zeta. Early on the Founders and members of the Charter Line recognized the importance of not just ensuring that members applied themselves to their academic pursuits in a most serious way, but that they permeated and insinuated themselves throughout the University community. All parties involved understood not only the importance of those pursuits, but also the primacy of establishing a robust historical presence for posterity sake. To that end, Mu Zeta has conducted 5-year Reunion, one of which took place this past weekend.

I recall returning to FSU for the 40th Anniversary of my Pledge Line, the Truckin’ 11, in 1973.  This past Fall (October 2015, I returned for the 40th Anniversary of my Graduation.  My College Chapter, EZ, hosted its Annual Retreat this past weekend also.  I was torn, but I knew I had to be in Chapel Hill to commemorate MZ’s 40th.

That brings me full circle. I looked forward with great anticipation to returning to Chapel Hill for MZ Week 2016 as the Chapter’s Founders and its members from over the years and across the country returned to where for the members, it had all begun. In the 40 years that have ensued since the Chapter’s inception, Mu Zeta has initiated men from 40 different Lines. I have served in many capacities in the Fraternity, including President of my Alumni Chapter and in several District positions. In reflecting on my fraternal life, my serving as a Founder, Assistant Dean of Pledgees, and subsequently associating with the members of Mu Zeta over the years, few if any activities rise to the level of having established Mu Zeta and watching with great pride their evolution, development, and many significant accomplishments.

I extend kudos to Brother Garrett Holloway, current Mu Zeta President, and Brother Kenneth Hill, Charter Member (and my home boy/Kinston, NC), who spearheaded the preparation and execution of the Reunion. I especially thank the team that worked on the various assignments necessary to elevate the Reunion from an exciting vision to an exceptional reality. I also want to take a personal point of privilege to thank Calvin Burney, the Charter Dean of Pledgees, for attending. This past weekend was his first trip back to Chapel Hill in decades. His participation was certainly a highlight for me. Not the biggest highlight, mind you, but definitely a really big deal. The itinerary included a Step Show, a Cookout, a Brotherhood Reception, a Business Meeting, a Service Project, a Golf Outing, a Ball, and Closing Brunch. Each of those activities was on point. But for me, THE high water mark was the opportunity to once again play basketball with my “young” Brothers. Oh yeah, and my “3” to win the game. What, you didn’t know I’m a vet? You’d betta ask somebody! LOL!

Last summer my current Chapter, Beta Nu Lambda (CLT), the 156th Chapter of the Fraternity, established August 1, 1939, hosted the National Convention. As a result, I gained hands-on, first person experience with planning and executing one of the Fraternity’s most important events. For a local College Chapter such as Mu Zeta it doesn’t get much bigger or more important than organizing a hosting a Reunion that touches members from the entire history of the Chapter. The organizers of MZ40 did a phenomenal job.

Most importantly, the men of Mu Zeta helped me affirm that none of my anticipation and pre-event excitement was misplaced. I have no buyer’s remorse. In effect, returning ”home” was as good as I thought it would be; maybe better. Ultimately, my Brothers demonstrated, in no uncertain terms, it is possible to go…”Home Again: 40 Years Later!”

GO HEELS, ’06, I’m done; holla back!

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