Chapter gives back

Published 12:27 am Monday, January 16, 2012

Eric Shelton | The Natchez Democrat — Michael Kelly listens as Alcorn State University President Dr. M. Christopher Brown speaks during the Rho Epsilon Lambda Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc. Fourth Biennial Dr. J.R. Todd Jr. Scholarship Banquet Saturday night at the Vidalia Conference and Convention Center.

NATCHEZ — Fred Marsalis Jr. compared his fraternity, the Rho Epsilon Lambda chapter of the Alpha Phi Alpha, to a football team.

“It’s like football, when you have 11 people on the field that have different goals, personalities and lifestyles, they can come together to win a football game,” said Marsalis, who serves as the group’s president.

The goal of the group is not to score touchdowns, but to demonstrate the fraternity’s three missions: manly deeds, scholarship and love for all mankind, Marsalis said.

Eric Shelton | The Natchez Democrat — Alcorn State University President Dr. M. Christopher Brown speaks during the Rho Epsilon Lambda Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc. Fourth Biennial Dr. J.R. Todd Jr. Scholarship Banquet Saturday night at the Vidalia Conference and Convention Center.

At Saturday night’s fourth biennial Dr. J.R. Todd Jr. Scholarship Banquet, the group paid tribute to its goals and accomplishments.

Last year the fraternity gave a total of $5,000, which was donated by area business sponsors, to area high school students who were headed to college.

Eight students from Adams, Wilkinson, Jefferson and Amite counties and Concordia Parish received $500 scholarships, and Marsalis said a scholarship for this year’s senior class is still pending.

The group has provided more than 31 scholarships since 2005. Students who qualify must earn a certain GPA, complete an essay about what they want to do in college and must be enrolled in college.

Marsalis said $500 may not pay tuition, but the gesture is intended to show the fraternity’s support for college-bound young men and women.

“(The scholarship) does show (the recipients) that they show initiative, and we appreciate them. And our fraternity wants to award that,” he said.

Erin Pickens, the news anchor for WJTV, served as master of ceremonies at the banquet, which was hosted at the Vidalia Conference and Convention Center. And the crowd heard a speech about “things left unseen” by Alcorn State University President M. Christopher Brown, Marsalis said.

Brown talked about the importance of contributions by people to the Civil Rights movement — then and now — who may not make the headlines or have the name recognition of Martin Luther King Jr., Marsalis said.

Marsalis said from September to December, the fraternity also raised $400 for March of Dimes, raised $225 for Toys for Tots and collected more than 500 articles of clothing, toiletries and luggage for the Sunshine Children’s Center.

Some of the 23 active members have spoken to area eighth through 12th graders at school, emphasizing the importance of competition through the group’s initiative “mediocrity doesn’t pay.”

At the banquet, Marsalis received an award for “brother of the year”; his father and charter member of the group, Fred Marsalis Sr., received an award for outstanding leadership for organizing the banquet; and member Michael Winn received an award for outstanding community service.

Marsalis Jr. said he feels blessed and honored to lead the group toward its missions.

“We really believe that children who are educated have a better chance of making a good life for themselves and their family and (a better chance) to become a productive citizen in society,” he said.