What is Founders Day? 5 Things To Know About This African-American Milestone

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By Connor Sheets | December 5, 2012 1:23 AM EST

Happy Founders Day! You may see this greeting online or hear it from one of your friends or relatives today, but it may leave you scratching your head as many people know very little about this important holiday.

This article will help you get acquainted with Founders Day, which celebrates an important milestone in African-American history.

1. The word “founder” comes from the fact that Founders Day is a commemoration of the founding of Alpha Phi Alpha, the first black fraternity to have Greek letters and be instituted at multiple American institutions of higher learning. Alpha Phi Alpha, which goes by the Greek letters “ΑΦΑ,” was founded on Dec. 4, 1906 at Cornell University, one of the Ivy League colleges. Located in Ithaca, N.Y., Cornell is considered the birthplace of the black fraternity, and is the home to a large Founders Day celebration each year.

2. Following the first Founders Day, Alpha Phi Alpha spread quickly across the land. In 1907, the year after ΑΦΑ was founded, chapters were chartered at Howard University and Virginia Union University. Chapters of the fraternity opened all across America, and now there are more than 730 active Alpha Phi Alpha chapters with 185,000 members on four continents. Today, the group accepts people of all races.

3. It has connections with antiquity. Beyond the Greek letters that mean Alpha Phi Alpha to all members of Greek organizations throughout the world, ΑΦΑ has other ties to history. The Great Sphinx at Giza, built during Ancient Egyptian times, is its official symbol, and a number of other traditions associated with the fraternity are rooted in the past.

4. It is a place where good works are performed. Alpha Phi Alpha is largely a service and leadership organization nowadays that works to address issues worldwide from public health and civil rights to poverty and housing. The group works with a range of organizations such as the Boy Scouts of America and Big Brothers Big Sisters of America to perform service initiatives. And ΑΦΑ is instrumental in the World Policy Council and Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial.

5. It is also a place where great careers get started and important connections are made. Speaking of Martin Luther King, Jr., he was a member of Alpha Phi Alpha. So were runner Jesse Owens, Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, singer Lionel Richie and countless U.S. Congressmen, mayors and other politicians. Like many top-flight fraternal organizations, Alpha Phi Alpha is a place for like-minded individuals to begin their life's work, and to begin to build the relationships that will help them make it a reality.

So on this Founders Day, take some time to reflect on the rich black history that began with a small group of young men one December 4 more than a century ago at leafy Cornell University.

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