Wednesday, August 07, 2002

Black fraternity to skip city


National convention lost as boycott retains impact

By Kevin Aldridge, kaldridge@enquirer.com
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The nation's largest African-American fraternity has pulled Cincinnati from consideration as the site for its 2005 convention because of the city's racial climate.

        Leaders of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc. announced Tuesday that they would not be coming to Cincinnati, in part because of what they see as the city's lack of progress and refusal to acknowledge racial problems.

        The convention would have brought between 3,000 and 5,000 people downtown and generated about $3 million for the local economy.

        “We felt it would have been a travesty to support Cincinnati by having our national convention there given what our organization stands for,” said Darryl Jones, chairman of the fraternity's national time and place committee. “We just could not see supporting the city with our dollars knowing the types of problems that African-Americans face there.”

        The decision comes about a month after the National Urban League yanked its convention from downtown following the controversial suspension of the city's highest-ranking black police officer. The move is also another indicator that the year-old boycott against the city, which some believed was waning, continues to have a strong influence on African-American groups.

        Alpha Phi Alpha had been in contract negotiations with the Greater Cincinnati Convention and Visitors Bureau since last year, but nothing had been finalized, according to bureau officials. The loss, they said, is still significant.

        “It is unfortunate to no longer be under consideration from a group like this,” said Julie Harrison Calvert, a bureau spokeswoman. “We're talking about a convention that is three years out. We are seeing a lot of significance in that.”

        Cincinnati was at the top of a short list of cities under consideration for the 2005 convention, which will mark the Alpha's 99th birthday.

        Cincinnati was rejected by the Alpha's national board of directors at last Thursday's Economic Development Conference in Las Vegas after local fraternity members recommended against coming. Fraternity leaders said better financial incentives also were a factor in the final decision to locate the convention in Houston.

        “Had it not been for the civil unrest in 2001 we might have been in Cincinnati,” said Andre Ward, the group's Midwestern Regional executive director. “We just felt that there had not been a good enough demonstration of good faith on behalf of the city to solve some of Cincinnati problems. . . . We're not talking about image and marketing campaigns, but solid strategies about how to resolve those issues.”

        The Alphas are no strangers to Cincinnati. The group held its national convention in the Queen City once during the 1960s and a regional convention at the Hyatt Hotel downtown in 2000. The 2000 meeting, which was to lay the groundwork for the 2005 convention, attracted about 1,500 fraternity members from 14 states and Canada.

        Akiva Freeman, a member of the fraternity since 1999, remembers the positive influence the 2000 regional meeting had on the city and regrets the loss of a chance to replicate that success on a larger scale.

        “As the local alumni chapter, it would have been a feather in our cap to be the host chapter for the national convention,” said Mr. Freeman, of Avondale. “But sometimes there has to be casualties in order to make progress.”

        Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. has about 160,000 members and 800 chapters.

       



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