Sep. 9, 2018


Wow, it's going to another hot blazing day in Baltimore today. It seemed that this particular September day was steaming hot, unlike any other day. The end of a momentous summer was upon them. The leaves on the neighborhood trees were dying on the branches in every black Baltimore street in the city. Yet for 12 bold, dynamic men that week, that on an upcoming day something special would manifest itself. You see there was an appointment with destiny and whether either of these 12 young men knew it or not the dye had been cast and the ideal had blossomed by thought. They each would be involved in founding an organization that still stands to the very day. In addition, each of these 12 men would be forever memorized in the history books of this yet unknown organization. 

Lonnie Spruill was thinking not about the heat of the day.  Hell or high water would not halt his urge to develop a binding principle that would direct change. Not only in his life but he wanted those honorable principles to bind like-minded brothers as well. You see that Saturday night he and John Slade, Frank Coakley, Elias Dorsey, and Webster Lewis were hanging out listening to records on the stereo with a few lady friends the five of them talked about how they had similar principles that centered around community development and social engagement. It was a time for engagement in the communities across black America. This was a year before the civil rights legislation would pass the houses of Congress and be signed by the then Vice President Johnson.  The was a President in Washington DC who was only 20 or so years older than each of them. The promise and hope of civil equality of brown and black people were a distant dream but the light of opportunity had just cracked some gleam of light on the vision of equal rights. Man, Lonnie and Frank could hardly withhold their energy of getting involved in this fantastic project.  Webster who was a musical genius saw this alignment as an opportunity to build alliances that would last a lifetime, or at least a couple of years while they matriculated in college. He enjoyed his fellowship with this crew. It seemed that his musical creativity was enhanced when he spends time with these brothers.  Frank was the youngest of the crew but he also was the silent assassin whose pinpoint views were always timely.  he made the group better and himself better with these alliances.

They had been discussing doing something as a group to have their voices heard but they didn't feel that joining the current fraternities on campus were the answer.  Each had been recruited by other organizations on campus both singularity and as a group. Yet not one of this group satisfied the inch of doing something really significant.  Why not do our own thing, a few years later the Isley Brothers would sing a powerful song, “It’s Your Thang, Do What You Wanna Do”, but these brothers were trailblazers in each their own way. Following the crowd was not something that appealed to them at all. They had run into a number of similarly minded brothers on campus the previous spring. So they knew that the interest would be there for something different, something unique, something that reaches beyond the possible.  That’s why the idea to create a group was devised because in black America change was on the lips of every young person seemingly in the country.  Over the past summer, they renewed alliances with Charlie Briscoe, Charlie was great with both his hands and mind. He could fix anything and also he could recite Socrates and Aristotle verbatim. Charles Brown and Charles Gregory were dynamic brothers as well as smooth and street savvy they both simply were as cool as a popsicle in the North Pole. Barron Willis, was the community organizer, the streetwise interpreter of what was hip in the city. He had that NYC flavor that the ladies indeed savored. Yet he was an astute activist who demanded change and sought solutions.  I guess growing up around the legends of Harlem germinated those attributes. His buddy Mike Williams also from the NYC was cool as cool could be and also was the jokester able to bring laughter into the most threatening of situations. That skill once refined would make Mike Williams the most elusive of all the founders.  Albert Hicks was the elder statesman of the crew. You see Albert worked full-time had a wife and was a student as well. When you defined the world leader in the dictionary Albert Hicks’s name appeared.  The professor of the crew was Elias Dorsey, who was as smart as anyone on the campus of Morgan State yet he understood that humility was a trait worth developing. So along with smart came his coolness.  The talker and deal maker was Louis Hudnell, who never was without some plan to build the next thing. Louis could sell ice to an Eskimo and melt and freeze it and sell it again.  Man, these 12 brothers were some badass crew. They each had their own special brand but put each together and you had one helluva band. These brothers created a dynamic black clan. the beauty of them all was that each was willing to lend the black community a hand.   

Over this past summer during the trip to see Dr.Martin Luther King Jr. and participate and the Jobs and Freedom Rally on August 28th, they each spoke collectively of doing something impactful that year. Man, it was impressive to see the hues of people from all backgrounds saying enough was enough! They ran into Charles Brown, Charlie Briscoe, and Charles Gregory and the 3 Charlie's were as interested as them in making a difference and addressing the rights of their people. They also had the opportunity to meet Barron Willis whose parents instilled in him the tools of demanding change. Louis Hudnell wanted to practice law when he left school but until then he wanted to be with a group of men who wanted to have their voices heard. He had spoken to Barron about this group of independent like-minded men and felt right at home. Barron Willis spoke to his friend Michael Williams about these brothers and Mike was interested in getting together with this plan.  Then something happened, something that necessitated moving up the clock on change. This devastating event on September 15, 1963, at a Sunday School Service, in Birmingham, Alabama. I mean just on the 14th they had gotten together at a gig Webster was playing in the city. It was such like any other night. They spoke of plans of how this organization would work. They even created a name which was initially meant to draw in men. I can only say the name consisted of 13 letters. Yet, on that Sunday right before each would leave for morning service a news bulletin shook the nation. Someone who hated made the choice to spread his murderous hatred towards a Sunday School Service at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. They each know the gory history of that treacherous city in the south. They also knew that no black life was respected and black rights were rejected. Now, this had just been too damn much. What had these 4 little girls done to anyone? What was their crime against humanity? Why did white people feel threatened by these girls? They had been discussing doing something as a group to have their voices heard but they didn't feel that joining the current fraternities on campus were the answer.


The burn for change had been ignited that Sunday morning. They had decided on that Monday that after classes on Thursday, September 19th they would meet. It was Albert Hicks idea to meet out in the open, not in a closed room. They wanted to be different so it was 5:55 PM and those 12 dynamic brothers from different backgrounds and interests It was now Thursday and the steps of Hurt Gymnasium were empty until John, Elias, Webster, Frank, and Lonnie showed up. They had spoken of meeting at 5:55 PM because it allowed everyone to take care of their responsibilities. Charles Briscoe, Barron, and Mike came to those stairs. Along Brown and Gregory followed by Louis. the last to arrive the young man who would lead them, Albert Hicks. Now all 12 were on those steps and each was committed do their best. You see those four little girls deserved nothing less. The aggressive burn to build something different, something that drew each of those specific steps at that specific time in our history. Well, it was indeed a wonderful epic event. To them, it was simply 12 black men looking to build and grow brotherhood, fellowship, citizenship, scholarship, and stay true to the founding principles. Each of the 12 was leaders in their own way. So the principles that drew them to those historic steps still remain today. The fight for the true equality for all peoples of colors no matter his/her creed or economic background still is ongoing. The spirit of those four little girls of Birmingham is as strong today as it was that Thursday. The 13 letters became Iota Phi Theta and today we celebrate the 55th birthday of this organization.



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