[UPDATED 7/19/14]) A sea of men and women decorated in “mighty blue and white” filled the Grand Ballroom of the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel in Northwest Washington, D.C. as Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity formally opened its centennial July 16 with a celebration themed, “The Best is Yet to Come.”
The audience joined in singing “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” the Negro National Anthem written by James Weldon Johnson, the eighth international president of the organization.
Sigma member and renowned entertainer Flex Alexander, who enthralled the audience with fraternity history and great comedy, also fueled a spirit of love and dedication in the ballroom for the event that formally opened the five-day observance in Washington, D.C. of 100 years of Phi Beta Sigma.
During the program, in recognition of the fraternity’s 100 years of service, the 34th International President Jonathan A. Mason was presented with a one-of-a-kind centennial pin. A duplicate is being installed at the newly opened Sigma museum.
The fraternity also presented awards to its seven past living presidents, James T. Floyd, Carter D. Womack, William E. Stanley, Jr., Peter M. Adams, Arthur R. Thomas, Paul L. Griffin, Jr. and Jimmy Hammock, as well as other fraternity members, including Grammy award winner Bobby Jones who received the fraternity’s Lifetime Achievement award.
Iconic Sigma member Rev. Al Sharpton delivered a call to the organization for brotherhood, scholarship and service, ending his charge to the audience by saying “leaning on the Lord, trusting in His Holy Word, from the outhouse to the White House, He has never failed us yet!”President Obama recognized the fraternity in a personalized congratulatory speech that had been videotaped at the White House.
Mary Breaux Wright, the 24thinternational grand basileus of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, the first member of the Black Greek-letter organization–known as the Divine Nine–to charter a chapter in the Middle East, also applauded her brother fraternity on sustaining Phi Beta Sigma for 100 years. In addition, the plethora of congratulatory wishes included a video tribute featuring speeches by the national leaders of the Divine Nine. It was produced by the National Pan Hellenic Council and a congratulatory speech by Natalie Tucker, multicultural markets manager for the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) who noted that the fraternity is the first Black Geek organization to have its name on the front of an AARP card.
The evening was filled with songs of praise — Christian gospel music performances headlined by Mount Calvary Word of Faith Church Pastor Shirley Caesar. It also featured the 100 Sigma Voices, who delivered an uplifting, high-energy performance, highlighted by a stirring delivery of “The Best Is Yet To Come.” Other performers included Charles Butler & Trinity, a 12-member chorale, and a show by a Sigma step unit that had the audience on their feet, chanting and shouting dedication to the fraternity.
The organization also formally unveiled its “I am My Brother’s Keeper” initiative, a companion to the White House’s My Brother’s Keeper drive to advance training and employment prospects for the nation’s men of color. “We’ve come this far by faith, leaning on the Lord, trusting in His Holy Word, He never failed us yet, is there anybody in the building that’s excited that Phi Beta Sigma is one hundred years old,” Mason shouted.