Monument at Shafer Court honors Eta Xi Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi at VCU

Dina Weinstein | 5/9/2024, 6 p.m.
Fifty years in the making, the ties of fraternity remain strong within the Eta Xi Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi ...
Members of the Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity witness the unveiling of a monument honoring the Eta Xi chapter’s founding at Virginia Commonwealth University 50 years ago. Photos by Jud Froelich/VCU

Fifty years in the making, the ties of fraternity remain strong within the Eta Xi Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity at Virginia Commonwealth University. But there’s a poignancy, too, that comes with time, and on April 20 — during the African American Alumni Council Reunion Weekend — its significance was set in stone.

A colorful granite monument now graces Shafer Court — a significant location in its own right – with the unveiling marking the 50th anniversary of the Eta Xi Chapter’s founding on Oct. 19, 1974. The monument was designed by fraternity brother Andre Thompson, a 1986 School of the Arts fashion illustration graduate who is based in Atlanta.

While the monument celebrates the achievements and bonds of the chapter’s nearly 250 brothers, it particularly honors the nine founders, who navigated a VCU environment that was far from the proudly diverse urban campus it is today.

“Black students stuck together because there were so few of us,” Eta Xi Founder John Lanier said in a video interview compiled by fraternity members.

Willie A. Munford recalled white fraternity brothers spitting in his afro from a second-floor dorm room – and how he sought out his brothers to confront the assailants. Decades later, “we’re still tight,” he said in the video.

The Eta Xi founders were trailblazers beyond campus, too. Kappa Alpha Psi dates to 1911 at the University of Indiana, and the VCU chapter would be the first in Virginia at a state university not designated as a historically Black institution.

History wasn’t necessarily on the founders’ minds, though: Known as the Nine Midnight Wanderers, they couldn’t meet until that late hour because they held afternoon and evening jobs after class to support themselves.

At the time, the Civil Rights and Black Power movements were pressing for equal treatment, with college campuses among the cultural cauldrons of the era. Frederick Merritt II, a Eta Xi brother who earned an information systems degree in 2001 and an MBA in 2003, said the monument acknowledged the courage of the founders to establish the chapter.

“It’s made a lasting impact on so many that have come after us, and we stand on the backs of those brothers that came before us,” said Mr. Merritt, who lives in Atlanta and is founder and CEO of Synergy Tech Consulting. “Our forever home is VCU, and so we wanted something to memorialize that.”

Mr. Merritt served as the memorial committee chair, and numerous alumni brothers helped coordinate the project. He noted the appropriateness of the location, too.

“Shafer Court is where we would have our mini block shows, step shows, new member presentation shows – all right there,” he said. “And that’s where the brothers would gather as a meeting place.”

Much as members still call on each other for friendship and networking, they answered the call for the monument – and for VCU: Uniting far-flung brothers, a fundraising effort generated more than $100,000 to create the monument, support the fraternity and contribute $50,000 to provide scholarships and support campus organizations.

Though Alexander Brown later transferred to Old Dominion University, he was a “line brother” with Mr. Merritt at VCU. Mr. Brown knew about Black fraternities from growing

up within walking distance of Virginia State University, and the Eta Xi experience at VCU created camaraderie, block show memories and strong bonds that persist.

Mr. Brown, who lives in Washington, D.C., and owns product management company Monroe Street Management, served as communications chair for the fraternity’s reunion weekend, producing a magazine and newsletters that captured the past and present impact of the chapter.

“We had an amazing community. We had an amazing Divine Nine,” Mr. Brown said of his VCU experience, referring to the nine traditional Black fraternities and sororities that each have origin stories framed by both duress and a commitment to community action and kinship.

Clifton Porter II, the Eta Xi’s 50th Anniversary Committee Chair, emphasizes how those roots were fragile before they ran deep.

“I like to remind folks that VCU obviously was a very different place and a less diverse university in 1974 than what it is today,” he said. “We had nine young men, young undergraduate college students, that made a decision that they wanted to create an environment of brotherhood and support to help get through and matriculate, get their degrees and get on with life.”

Mr. Porter earned his undergraduate degree in health care management at VCU in 1989 and now serves as senior vice president of government relations for the American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living. His era on campus was a bridge of sorts between generations whose experiences collectively tell a story about the Eta Xi Chapter and VCU.

“We wanted to pay tribute to the progress that’s been made at the university,” Mr. Porter said of the monument, “and more importantly, pay tribute to those nine young men that took that step 50 years ago to make it a much more welcoming place.”

And for the brothers of Eta Xi, that place has been a formative experience, Mr. Merritt added.

“It’s important to pay homage to all the brothers that have paved the way, because in one way or another, Eta Xi has impacted their life,” he said. “I think it’s important to recognize the past, the adversity that all those that came before us experienced, and commemorate their efforts. I’m sure that they did not really envision how big Eta Xi would get.”

This story was originally published by VCU News.