By: Frederick Leon Cox
I have always felt a sense of loneliness. For many who know me, they wouldn’t believe that. I was raised with multiple siblings, two older (by 5 and 7 years) and three younger (6-10 years), seemingly a big family but I always felt alone. When I heard J Cole’s Middle Child lyric, “Dead in the middle of two generations. I’m little bro and big bro all at once”, I felt that in my spirit. In my family, I always wished I had a roll dog. Someone close to my age that I would ride for and they would return the loyalty. With so many people around, I felt awkward, it caused me to isolate myself.
As I transitioned throughout grade school, my personality made me one of the most social people in the room. While it was natural for me to be extroverted, there are multiple memories of feeling like the most awkward person in the room. I attended an Arts high school where I majored in theatre. From a very early space, I learned to be comfortable being laughed at, and to shake it off as if I wasn’t bothered. Graduating high school I received the superlative Mr. Stivers High School, an individual that exemplified the most high school spirit. It was proof that I knew how to wear the mask well.
I then matriculated to the University of Dayton, at that point the institution was no more than 3% black and so the feeling of isolation met me at the front door. It didn’t take me long to realize that I may need to leave the institution. I had two friends that felt similar and instantly we began discussing Greek Life. As I considered which organization would best suit me, I realized that I identified with Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., more than any other. Not only was I inspired by the history, but the intellectual brothers that helped shaped black ideology confirmed that I would be in good company. The lack of black students at the university made the idea of joining a Historically black fraternity seem like the answer to all my challenges at the time. Not only would I have the opportunity to bond with over 200,000 Black men all over the world, but I would be able to travel to other universities to make my college experience larger than what I was currently being offered. In short, those feelings of isolation would end.
On March 7th, 2009, I joined the best fraternity in the entire world. It didn’t take long for me to become a recognizable Alpha in the area. I soon ran for statewide, regional, and national positions within the fraternity. I tried to get to know every Alpha I could and I traveled to support brothers as much as possible. Striving to be the best Alpha made me feel like I was truly living the mission of our fraternity. I met some of the strongest, forward thinking, family centered men that I had ever known. Needless to say, I had no regrets. Years after college, I not only remained active but as exuberant as I was the day in which I became a member. Two months ago I celebrated 10 years within the fold and as I look back at my experience, I realize that I have returned back to that space of isolation. But how? My dream came true, I was a member of a leading Black Male organization with tons of connections.
I began therapy to look more into this. As I explained my circumstance, I was guided to understand that isolation was centered in my genuine friendships with other Black men. I thought about how my entire life I was able to create strong and affirming relationships with black women but was missing that with my black male peers. Examining my relationships with the black males in my family, it became clear that they weren’t as strong either (four brothers not close to me in age and a father that I had yet to build an authentic relationship with). Specifically in the context of Alpha, I pledged with the hopes of building relationships, but I spent the majority of my time working to serve the organization rather than sitting back and building relationships with my brothers inside. Therapy helped me realize that in my friendships with men, I compete. Rather than sharing and supporting, I fight for leadership roles and often isolate myself from the general experience.
That was tough pill to swallow.
As I approach my 30s, I realize that I don’t just need to passively be part of a brotherhood and directly invested in the business. I realized that I am complicit in my own isolation. I was so focused on leading the brotherhood that I hadn’t taken the time to focus on what I truly needed with the group. This even allowed me to think about the ways I was complicit in my surface relationships with men within my family. I joined Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Incorporated to be part of brotherhood of back men. Black men bonded by their vulnerabilities, not just their professional acumen. If that was what I wanted, I would need to focus on being more vulnerable and judging the actions of others less. Most importantly, I realize that my contributions to the fold isn’t solely based on leadership roles but my ability to truly be my brother’s keeper.
I shared this story because what I gained from this fraternity was reality that brotherhood is an exchange and not just shared space. As I continue on my journey to build healthy relationships with black male peers, I’m able to consider the roles I play. These next few years will be filled with apologies, listening, sharing, asking questions and taking on intentional leadership roles that feed my needs. Brotherhood is no longer something I long for, it’s something that I am an active agent in creating.