Micheal Parham, an Austin resident who was the first African-American principal at what was then known as St. Thomas Aquinas Elementary School, 116 N. LeClaire Ave., will be one of the 11 Chicago Omega Psi Phi fraternity members honored as a Golden Bridge Builder during the fraternity’s April 30 Midwest convention. 

The historically Black fraternity was founded 110 years ago at Howard University and currently boasts over 750 chapters. The convention, held April 30 to May 1, is for the chapters within the fraternity’s 10th District, which includes chapters in Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana, Minnesota and Michigan. The convention will recognize winners of its scholarship programs and contests, highlight the chapters’ accomplishments and allow members to strategize for the future. 

Sean Long, the First Vice 10th District Representative, said that the fraternity has a long tradition of community service. Parham, for example, talked about offering summer jobs for Austin teens while he was a principal. Long said that the fraternity has responded to COVID-19 pandemic and the fallout from multiple police shootings of Black men, and they plan to put increasing emphasis on youth mentoring and advocating for criminal justice reform in the coming year.

Because of COVID-19, the convention is mostly virtual. The public portions of the first day of the convention will be streamed live on its Facebook page, at https://www.facebook.com/tenthdques/, and  people can join the May 1 virtual party and fundraiser at http://virtualgroove.rhogammagamma.org/

Long said that District 10 chapters have been dealing with issues of “social injustice and economic inequity” for a long time, citing the water crisis in Flint, Mich., as an example. He said the chapter felt the need to respond to national issues, particularly involving police shootings, because so many of them have happened in District 10. Long singled out the work of the Epsilon Rho chapter in Minnesota’s Twin Cities area.

“Before the Derek Chauvin conviction, that chapter was leading peaceful protests,” he said. “They’ve done a number of things to unify the community, as far as having community events outside to bring the community together.”

Long said that the chapters also responded to the pandemic. In Chicago, the fraternity handed out 800 bags of food and medical supplies, and gave away around 5,000 masks and hand sanitizers. They also put together blood donation drives.

Long said that the Chicago’s Pho Gamma Gamma chapter and other chapters in the district have been putting together youth mentoring programs. 

“In the future, we want to have a unified, community-wide mentoring program for young people, capturing them before they make it out on the street,” he said. “We get calls from single moms who want help, who want an audience from men to help the young men make the right decisions. Those are the things I look forward to, those are the things I’m excited about.”

Building community is something Parham knows well. He said that he started out as a teacher at St. Thomas Aquinas in 1974 and served as a principal from 1978 to 1983. He said that he coached basketball and tried to provide summer jobs for Austin kids for as long as he was in school. 

“We had kids from the neighborhoods, kids who got into trouble a little bit, but they knew, in the summertime, they were going to work for me at St Thomas,” Parham said.

According to his LinkedIn profile, he also taught adult education courses in the City Colleges of Chicago and he currently runs a company that specializes in providing financial advice for nonprofits.

According to the District 10 press release, the Golden Bridge Builders distinction that “recognizes and celebrates Omega Brothers who have dedicated 50 years of loyal service to Omega and the community at large.” Parham, who joined the fraternity in 1971, said that getting the honor felt “magnificent.” 

Long said that the fraternity’s other priority is criminal justice reform. He lauded the work of fraternity brother Benjamin Crump, who has served as attorney to many Black police shooting victims. 

“We want change in our community,” Long said. “That’s key to it for me. As men of Omega, there are over 7,000 members of the Omega Psi Phi fraternity in the 10th District, and it’s time for us to be the change agents.”

Igor Studenkov

Igor Studenkov is a winner of multiple Illinois Press Association awards for local government and business reporting. He has been contributing to Austin Weekly News since 2015. His work has also appeared...