It seemed like a good idea when I was a rowdy 19 year old boy. Sean McLean, one of the kids I'd gone to high school with; a few years older; had pledged. His family and my family go back to the time before I was born. His folks went to Howard with my folks in the sixties. His mom and my mom worked together for the government in the seventies. In the eighties they sent us to Sidwell Friends. For all intents, they are extended family. So seeing what was essentially my older cousin who walked on water, barking, talkin shit, and setting out hops at the big Emory campus when I was just a freshman, had an outsized impact on me.
Then of course, there was Dr. Cummings. The Cummings moved into a house up the street from my parents' when I was about ten years old. They had two boys, one my age, another a few years younger. From fifth grade through high school, we carpooled to school together; rode bikes through the neighborhood on the weekends; played football in the yard when it was warm; video games in the basement when it was cold. Dr. Cummings became my loud, gregarious uncle. And he too was a brother of Omega. Older men aren't really considered "bruhs" like the young roughneck turks running wild on college campuses; they're distinguished men of the brotherhood. The kind of old black men you see at the front of the church; yelling encouragement at kids' basketball games; arguin' in the barber shop 'bout whether Muhammad Ali would've knocked out Mike Tyson.
During the Christmas break of my sophomore year, I made up my mind to pledge. I didn't think about it too long or too deeply. I didn't think about much at all I suppose. But it seemed like something that would raise my stock on campus. I remember practicing angry faces in the mirror, throwing up the Omega hand sign - shootin' the funk - and awkwardly trying to to emulate the steps I'd seen Sean hop at the frat parties from my freshman year.
I reached out to Sean when I'd made up my mind to pledge. Calling him at home over the Christmas break. He asked me about my grades. Once I told him I had above a 3.0, his interest picked up. "mmm-hmm! mm-hmmm!" he growled when I told him I was doing well enough to pledge. The frat required a minimum gpa which I was well above, but more important than my grades was the fact that I had the balls to approach the bruh and tell him I was interested. He told me who I should contact when I got back to campus and gave me a reading list. It all seemed like a big adventure. I wore a goofy smile as he instructed me. I didn't comprehend the scope of what I was actually undertaking. But, as is still my disposition when confronted with a new challenge, I thought it couldn't really be that bad. I'd wrestled in high school; played football and lacross growing up. I'd been in fights; been jumped. I assumed I was tough enough to handle they're little pledge club. And I remained under that delusion until the bruhs literally slapped the fantasy out of me.
When I got to campus that spring, I was greeted warmly by friends from D.C. I'd grown up with who had also gone down south to school with me. A couple of Atlanta kids they'd met, greeted me more warmly than I would've expected. They knew Sean. They knew who I was before I knew who they were. Ron Sailor Jr. was one of them. It's hard to forget Ron. He lived on the same freshman hall as my boys from D.C. and he was loud in every sense of the word. The first time I saw him he had on a matching short set - paisley, rayon, short-sleeved dress shirt; paisley, rayon, dress shorts; black socks and dress shoes. No lie. Back home we called kids like that bamas. But my D.C. boys, unsure of this new land of Atlanta we'd entered, deferred to Ron's fashion sense as something beyond our comprehension. The son of a famous Atlanta media personality and pastor, Ron always seemed to be caught between two worlds: religious and secular; bruh and pledge; cool and wack. After we pledged, I remember hanging in Ron's apartment. I noticed that he had the same thick collection of Shakespeare plays that I had in my dorm room. I also noticed in his cd collection a copy of the same Isley Brothers Greatest Hits that I had. At first I thought Ron and I, beneath it all, had the same tastes. Upon further inspection I discovered he'd rolled my book and cd on a previous visit to my dorm room. I promptly reclaimed both. I got burned. We both laughed. I appreciate a good swipe.
Another ATLian, JB, set up a meeting for those of us who'd expressed interest in pledging at the beginning of the semester. He, Ron, and the other kids who'd been fuckin with the bruhs during the previous semester organized our pre-pledge group. They gave me little crumbs of knowledge: read this book; memorize that poem. Learn the greek alphabet. There were more clandestine meetings. More kids I'd never met before. We gathered on different parts of campus so as not to give ourselves away. My friends from home began to see me less often. Occasionally our new clique would pass other small groups. We'd nod to each other as we crept through the halls wondering what fraternities they were pre-pledging. These meetings went on for several weeks until slowly, one or two real brothers of Omega began to look in on us. They threw us more crumbs of fraternity knowledge; told us how to stand; how to address them; what to learn about each other; lined us up.
Eventually, the real process began. I can't say much about it. I respect the secrets of the fraternity, but I can say that it was brutal. I was paddled so hard and so often that my ass was hardened to a tough leather. My girlfriend's eyes swelled with tears when I winced as she touched my bruised body. One time she was staying at my place and found me slumped outside the front of the apartment, dropped off after a particularly ferocious session, pawing the door, exhausted. I couldn't muster the strength to knock. One line brother was temporarily disfigured with a horrible case of poison ivy on his face he caught when we were running through the woods to get away from the bruhs after a session. Another ended up in a back brace. Still, we laughed a lot. Cracked jokes on each other; cracked jokes about the bruhs; especially Ron. We became soldiers forged in fire. Hard. For a brief time the process became my whole existence. I failed the entire semester that I pledged.
As time wore on, the brainwashing faded. I had an easier time taking punishment than doling it out. From the inside looking outward I saw things that I found either disgusting, boring, or lame. Harassing pledges. Fights. Wrestling in the grass with grown men. False bravado. Sexually assaulting women. Conformity to the traditions of the fraternity, the look of the fraternity, the feel of the fraternity. I'd pledged Omega as opposed to Alpha because I thought I would be able to be myself. That was far from the case. My red dred locks drew quizzical looks from bruhs who didn't know me. My choice of friends; my best friends; white, indian, black private school, g.d.i.'s (god damn independents) were not what the bruhs expected. Trippin' acid, shrooms, smokin la, all of it was "not traditional". By my senior year, I saw the writing on the wall. Aside from revealing secrets, non-participation is the ultimate sin of the brotherhood. Unlike white fraternities, black fraternities are supposed to be a lifetime commitment.
After graduation I would occasionally, half-heartedly attend frat functions. In law school, I ran afoul of the New York bruhs who expected me to participate. The same was true at Dr. Cummings' son's wedding. This troubled me deeply then and still sometimes. I'd been through so much and it seemed to be for no reason.
Not long after the wedding, Dr. Cummings succumbed to cancer. I remember one bruh who was beefing with me at the wedding, ice grillin' me at the funeral ... at. the. funeral. Jesus. That was pretty much the end for me. Ron Sailor, I learned years later, never found a way to reconcile the forces pulling him in different directions:
"Former Rep. Sailor sentenced to 63 months in prisonAs for me, I'm retired. Sphere: Related Content
By BILL RANKIN
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
When state Rep. Ron Sailor Jr. learned he could launder money that came from cocaine sold to college students, he didn’t blink.
In fact, the preacher-turned-lawmaker asked if he could work with a large-scale drug dealer who could bring in lots of cash. Then Sailor asked for some cocaine he could sell himself.
Former state Rep. Ron Sailor Jr., a Democrat, represented DeKalb and Rockdale counties.
These revelations came out in court Tuesday when Sailor was sentenced to five years and three months in prison for money laundering and defrauding the church he once led as pastor.
“I understand I could have taken a very different route,” Sailor, 33, told U.S. District Court Judge Jack Camp before sentencing. “I’ve repented before God for my mistakes.”"