This year, Gamma Epsilon Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. is commemorating 75 years of promoting academic excellence, service, and advocacy at UW-Madison and the local community.
“I think it’s made a huge impact in the Madison community, specifically on campus. I’ve been in the chapter since 2002 and I’ve just seen the social atmosphere that it’s brought,” said Gamma Epsilon member and Fitchburg Alder Joe Maldonado.
Maldonado will serve as the emcee for the Black Tie Gala this Friday, Oct. 29, at the Sheraton Madison Hotel. The campus chapter plans to celebrate their anniversary through hosting a golf outing, Black Tie Gala and post-Gala reception. Their anniversary weekend also coincides with UW-Madison Homecoming week.
“This is really about creating unity. We just really want those in the community to see us as a gateway to growth,” said Gamma Epsilon Chapter member Elias Sobah, who is the 75th-anniversary weekend coordinator. “We’re going to be doing our thing to uplift the members within our audience whether that’s the Black community here or the multicultural community, but we also want to create new partnerships.”
The keynote speaker for the gala will be Gamma Epsilon member and UW Football alum Kevin Cohee, chairman and CEO of One United Bank, the largest and first Black-owned bank in the nation. On Saturday, Oct. 30, the chapter and the Wisconsin Black Student Union are planning an informal guided networking event and a showcase of student artists, musicians, and activists at the Fluno Center on campus.
“We’ve been within the community for a long time and we’re one of the most impactful Black groups within the community,” said Arthur Willis, who is the current chapter president.
Willis is a senior majoring in civil and environmental engineering while also pursuing a certificate in environmental studies. Willis joined the chapter in the spring of 2020. He believes that his organization remaining active at a predominantly white institution for so long makes a statement in itself.
“I think my chapter has definitely left behind a pretty profound legacy on campus. That’s been visible throughout my time here, before joining the chapter and throughout the years beforehand,” Willis said.
The organization, founded in 1906, is the first African-American, intercollegiate Greek-lettered fraternity. Since 1946, the Gamma Epsilon Chapter has provided programming and events centered around building community, academic achievement, activism, giving back and mentorship.
“For me, it really means a lot to me. I’m originally from Madison, but coming on campus it was kind of difficult to find my identity and purpose outside of school work on campus,” Sobah said. “Joining the chapter and being around other men who came from relatively similar backgrounds or had relatively similar experiences and being able to come together and have a brotherhood that supported me and held me accountable to achieve growing into the man I wanted to see.”
Sobah, a LEED Scholar majoring in industrial engineering, joined the chapter in the spring of 2019. He said the anniversary weekend means a lot to the brothers who have come before and those currently in school now. Sobah explained a lot has happened since the last time brothers were able to come together.
Chapter member Darrell Foster passed away this summer. He graduated from UW-Madison in May 2020, earning a bachelor of science in biology with a certificate in studio arts.
After graduating, Foster spent most of his time studying for the MCAT. He had just applied to medical school and aspired to become a plastic surgeon. He and Sobah joined the organization together.
“We support each other. We have reconnected calls. We talk amongst each other in group chats but when you’re able to come together in person it means a lot more and it puts all the emotions in one place. It just feels great and you’re able to build comradery in a different way than you’re able to in a virtual world,” he said.
He cited social events like O’Sickness, a late-night event attended by students on campus and beyond. Maldonado also said the chapter gives back to the city and has built relationships with local community centers while molding future leaders. He reminisced about the times brothers have mentored him and provided him guidance when in need.
“The caliber of leaders that it has produced is just incredible. From people in government, business, nonprofit, athletics — it’s just been inspiring to be part of such a great group of men who have really made an impact on the world,” Maldonado said.
Maldonado referenced members like Dane County Social Services Jail Diversion Coordinator Bobby Moore, Dane County Office for Equity and Inclusion Director Wesley Sparkman, psychotherapist and life coach Walter Williams, Mike Jackson, the new Associate Athletic Director of Development, Inclusion & Engagement at UW-Madison.
“All of these men have really made their mark on their communities and they’ve also made their mark on me,” Maldonado said.
More information about Gamma Epsilon’s 75th anniversary weekend can be found online.