Monday, August 16, 2010

This Is How It's Done


Once upon a time in Philadelphia, there was something magical called the "Greek Picnic". In the days before pagers, cell phones, email, Facebook, and Twitter, African American college students had a "word of mouth" underground type of communication that would rival all of these things. It was known that on every second Saturday in July, you were to converge on Philadelphia with members of your fraternity and sorority for a day of chillin', grillin', and socializing. This is what is referred to as networking nowadays, I suppose.

Thousands of members of Kappa Alpha Psi, Delta Sigma Theta, Omega Psi Phi, Alpha Kappa Alpha, Alpha Phi Alpha, Zeta Phi Beta, Phi Beta Sigma, Sigma Gamma Rho, and Iota Phi Theta (the adeptly named, "Divine Nine") would meet in a chosen spot in Fairmount Park, set up tables full of food, beer, and wine, and just eat, drink, and socialize with old college chums and meet new people. People would stay there from 12noon until 7:00 or 8:00pm, then go home or to the home of a fraternity brother or sorority sister, get washed, dressed, and head downtown to the clubs.

The Kappas or the Ques were usually throwing a party somewhere, and that was that. Come Sunday Morning, we would all pile into IHOP (the one on City Avenue that used to stay open 24 hours and have breakfast) before we went home or back to college. During the years I was in college, I would actually be in town and my parents wouldn't even be aware of it... and then, I would leave and head back to college that Sunday and none would be the wiser. After college, of course, I would just head home, since I lived here. Now, fast forward to the not-so-distant-past...

The local radio stations found out about the Greek Picnic and started setting up shop in Fairmount Park on that day. They did bring DJs and music, something we never had before... but, they also brought companies trying to sell things, all kinds of "independent entrepeneurs" (drug dealers, con men), and teenagers from nearby neighborhoods that had never set foot in a college and didn't know a Delta from a Zeta. This led to fighting, police intervention, sexual assaults, and all kinds of mayhem.

Then, all of these teenagers would head to South Street and have a mini-riot, assaulting people, breaking store windows, etc. The media would always pin the mayhem on the "Greek Picnic", even though in nearly every case, the person arrested was a teenager who was not even associated with the Greek Picnic weekend. All the media needed to know was that it was a young African American and that was that..

The whole spirit of the Greek Picnic was ruined. Then, about ten years ago, some of my contemporaries put together something called "The Old School Greek Picnic". Represenatives of every predominately black frat and sorority got together and organized another picnic... in a different part of Fairmount Park on the second Saturday in August. These weren't young bucks... these were people who are my age and older. We organized it and notified only those people who needed (Greeks) to know on Facebook, Twitter, e-mails, texts, and word of mouth.

Each organization donated money for the permits, a DJ, picnic tents, and grills... and that was that. We've been meeting without incident for close to ten years and it was just like before... Just chilliin', grillin', and socializing with folks you haven't seen in a while or only on Facebook.

Today, I was happy to take my wife to the Old School Greek Picnic and show her a good time. We sat with my cousin, who is a Delta, and some of my frat brothers from Philadelphia Alumni. I saw Ques, Deltas, and AKAs I knew from my job, college years, and just from the streets. It was great... good food, good people, good times. Young people take note... this is how it's done!

4 comments:

Rich said...

Freaknic in Atlanta fell to the same demise. The last one I went to back in '94 had the city, and I do mean the city, on gridlock. Black people from EVERYWHERE, greek and non-greek descended on the city. Not long after that, the city dwellers raised so much fuss about the trash, the violence, and the utter chaos that it was done away with.

The trip part is that it started similar to the one in Philly, with just the local greeks from the AU Center and some invited frat and sorrors from nearby cities.

Eventually, the good thing, got to be too good.

Maybe they need a refresher in how it's done.

BluJewel said...

While I'm not Greek, I am affiliated with them and have been saddened with the demise of many Greek picnics over the years because people simply don't know how to act. I was recently at the NYC Ques Omega weekend and it went without incident; just as last years Jersey City Ques Omega weekend did.

I think people (read mostly non-Greeks) are envious in some ways of the unity of the events and the good time that's being had and find ways to muck it up. They don't understand and appreciate the camaraderie that's being shared and the legacy that's being upheld.

Sadly, as a community overall, people have forgotten how to come together with a common goal to have a good time and walk away with a good memory. Like Rich said, maybe they need a refresher in how it's done.

I'm happy to hear that the event went well.

Arlene said...

Hey cuz, I can go back into the
60's when the Ques had "Omega By the Sea," a weekend blowout in Atlantic City, NJ. In high school I planned to go to college. A side benefit to preparing for a career was to be in with the party people!
During the summer of '69 two girlfriends and I took a Greyhound bus to AC, partyed through the wee hours, and then crashed in a room with folks we didn't even know. We were all going off to college or returning from the summer break.
And I think that's where the problems arise. Little more than half of the kids in Philly now graduate from high school. Those who do, are not accepted at college because of their lack of literacy skill. Admission, attendance, and graduation rates at CCP are atrocious.
I think the behavoirs we see are frustration at the lack of opportunity. I applaud the AKAs and Kappas for their community outreach and scholarship assistance.

CurvyGurl ♥ said...

Hey Keith! It's great to be able to chill with folks who were part of your formative years (lol). You're right, I don't know what the generations after us will do with all the distractions and nonsense they deal with these days.




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