Iota Phi Theta

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Iota Phi Theta Inc.
Founded September 19, 1963; 52 years ago
Morgan State University
Type Social
Emphasis Service
Scope International
United States
The Bahamas
South Korea
Motto Building A Tradition,
Not Resting Upon One!
Colors Charcoal Brown █ and Gilded Gold █
Symbol Centaur
Flower Yellow Rose
Chapters 300+
Nickname Iotas, Centaurs, Outlaws, Thetamen
Headquarters Founders Hall 1600 North Calvert Street
Baltimore, Maryland, USA

Iota Phi Theta Fraternity (ΙΦΘ) Incorporated is a nationally incorporated, historically African-American, collegiate fraternity. It was founded on September 19, 1963 at Morgan State University (then Morgan State College) in Baltimore, Maryland . At present, it consists of over 70,000 members. There are currently over 300 undergraduate and alumni chapters, as well as colonies located in 40 US states, the District of Columbia, the Bahamas, Japan, South Korea and the Republic of Colombia.

The fraternity holds membership in the National Pan-Hellenic Council (NPHC), an umbrella organization comprising nine International Historically African-American Greek letter Sororities and Fraternities, and the North-American Interfraternity Conference (NIC). The Centaur Magazine is the official publication of the Iota Phi Theta Fraternity, Inc. First published as a newsletter, the Centaur has evolved into a biannual magazine.


The fraternity was founded by 12 men—Albert Hicks, Lonnie Spruill, Jr., Charles Briscoe, Frank Coakley, John Slade, Barron Willis, Webster Lewis, Charles Brown, Louis Hudnell, Charles Gregory, Elias Dorsey, Jr. and Michael Williams—in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement even though there were already 4 other prominent Historically Black Fraternities at the time. Influences included organizations such as the Black Panthers, SNCC, plus individuals like Malcolm X, and Stokely Carmichael. Iota brothers participated in various protests and sit-ins throughout the city of Baltimore. The Iota founders were distinguished from their peers as they were all non-traditional students. Three to five years older than their peers, many had served in the military, worked full-time while attending classes full-time, and had families with small children. These elements gave the Founders a different perspective than the typical fraternity member[1]

On September 19, 1963, in the height of the Civil Rights’ Movement, these twelve founders gathered together on the steps of Hurt Gymnasium on the campus of Morgan State College (now known as Morgan State University) and formed Iota Phi Theta Fraternity, Inc. The fraternity was formed as a support system for men of color during the turbulent U.S. social climate of the time.[1]

Iota Phi Theta sought to eradicate segregation with a protest that was organized against the Northwood Shopping Center in Baltimore, Maryland shortly after its founding. Big Brothers of America was supported throughout the 1960s and 1970s. In 1974, then Grand Polaris, Thomas Dean appeared in a local television commercial on behalf of Big Brothers of America. Their idealism continues to strive with service initiatives to involve the fraternity with the NAACP, The United Negro College Fund, The National Sickle Cell Foundation, The Southern Christian Leadership Conference, The National Federation of the Blind, and Project IMAGE. Most recently, the establishment of the National IOTA Foundation and Iota Youth Alliance helped extend Iota Phi Theta idealism regarding service and the building of traditions in the community.In 1992, the fraternity established the National Iota Foundation, a Tax-Exempt entity whose purpose is to assist the needy through scholarships and other financial assistance. Since its creation, the foundation has distributed over $250,000 in programs and services. They have a strong commitment to bring about empowerment to the African American community.

Since its founding date, Iota Phi Theta has continued to grow and has become the fifth-largest, and fastest growing predominantly black fraternal organization in the United States. As of now, there are over 70,000 members in the United States and overseas. A key appeal of Iota Phi Theta is, as an organization, it refuses to have its members bind themselves to a defined fraternal image but celebrates the individuality of its members. More importantly, its members continue to build upon the fraternity’s commitment to success and excellence with individual and collective achievements in such fields as politics, education, law, business, healthcare and the performing arts. September 19, 2013 marked the 50th anniversary of Iota Phi Theta Fraternity, Inc.

Audrey Brooks[edit]

In the early growth and development of the Fraternity, a Morgan State University staff member by the name of Audrey Brooks was able to assist the Brothers and became a vital resource to Iota Phi Theta. Her actions and influence provided much needed protection and support for the fledgling organization.

In recognition of her efforts, Ms. Brooks was granted the title of “Eternal Sweetheart” an honor she wore proudly for the rest of her life. Ms. Brooks was a continual supporter of Iota Phi Theta and was a frequent guest at Iota Conclaves and workshops until her passing in 2003.

Iota Phi Theta continues to maintain an auxiliary group known as Iota Sweethearts in her honor. Sweethearts are a recognized, respected and honored tradition of the Fraternity.

Northwood Theater[edit]

Morgan State College was across the street, diagonal from the Northwood Theater, and thousands of students were being denied privileges at Northwood. The area around the campus and theater is almost all white, except for the Black campus. Segregated movie theaters were part of the “southern way of life.” In many places there are “white only” and “colored” cinemas; in other places seating on the main floor is limited to whites, while Blacks are restricted to the “Jim Crow” balcony, often with a separate ticket booth and entrance.

One of their first acts in support of the movement was boycotting the segregated shopping mall in Baltimore shortly after the first chapter formed. Iota Phi Theta sought to eradicate segregation with various protests that were organized against the Northwood Shopping Center in Baltimore, Maryland in the midst of its founding. Starting February 15, 1963 and over the course of the six days, the total numbers picketers involved added up to 1500, and over 400 individuals had been arrested. After a week of intense direct action the theater capitulated and ended its white-only policy on February 22, 1963.

The demonstration against Northwood Theater by Iota Phi Theta’s founders and a Civic Interest Group which was composed mostly of Morgan State College students, took place in the context of a longer history of protests against the theater’s white-only policy. Annual demonstrations against the theater had been held since 1955, involving a sitting in at Northwood and picketing downtown. The theater was a last holdout of racial segregation in the blocks surrounding the college; it’s capitulation to students’ demands, a final success in a long string of successes.


The Fraternity functioned as a local entity until the first interest groups were established in 1967 at Hampton Institute (Beta Chapter) and Delaware State College (Gamma Chapter). Further expansion took place in 1968 with chapters being formed at Norfolk State College (Delta Chapter) and Jersey City State College (Epsilon Chapter). The Fraternity was officially and legally incorporated on November 1, 1968 as a National Fraternity under the laws of the State of Maryland.

The first steps toward moving the Fraternity from a regional to a more national scope were taken with the creation of Upsilon Chapter (Southern Illinois University) in 1974. It was also during this period that the Fraternity’s first 4 Graduate chapters were formed: Alpha Omega (Baltimore, MD, 1965), Beta Omega (Washington, DC, 1970), Gamma Omega (Hampton, VA, 1973), and Delta Omega (Boston, MA, 1973).

These chapters created the framework for the growth and development of the organization in the Northeast, Southeast, Mid-Atlantic, and Midwest Regions of the country. The next regional expansion occurred in 1983 with the establishment of the Alpha Chi (San Francisco State University) and Xi Omega (San Francisco Alumni) chapters in California.[2]

In 2012, Iota Phi Theta was ranked #20 in Newsweek Top 25 Fraternities by The Daily Beast [3]

Iota joins the NPHC[edit]

While joining the NPHC was an important objective for the fraternity, the greater priority was to enter an affiliation that would provide resources and relationships essential for Iota’s long-term growth & development. With that in mind, Iota Phi Theta successfully petitioned for membership in the National Interfraternity Conference (NIC) in 1985. The NIC is a federation of 75 men’s national and international fraternities and Iota remains 1 of only 3 historically African-American fraternities who are NIC members. While the NIC experience was (and remains) an unqualified success, Iota continued to dialogue with the NPHC. In an encouraging turn of events, the NPHC adopted a constitutional amendment which provided for expansion at its 1993 national convention. Several years later, an expansion committee developed criteria for potential new member organizations and a procedure by which they might apply.[4]

Upon receiving the criteria and procedure in 1996, Iota Phi Theta submitted a formal application to the NPHC expansion committee. This application was carefully reviewed by the committee and was delivered to the NPHC Executive Board for determination. After careful consideration and deliberation, Iota Phi Theta’s membership application was approved unanimously and effective November 12, 1996, Iota Phi Theta was accepted as a full member of the National Pan-Hellenic Council with all rights, privileges, and responsibilities thereto.[4]

To commemorate and formalize Iota’s entry, the NPHC conducted a formal induction ceremony at its February 1997 leadership conference. This ceremony was attended by hundreds of Iota Men, including the Grand Council and a number of the Fraternity’s founders as well as hundreds of well-wishers and supporters from the NPHC community.[4]

National programs[edit]

Iota Phi Theta Fraternity, Inc. takes pride in its continued effort to facilitate and participate in various community service ventures and initiatives throughout various communities, especially the disenfranchised.[5]

The National Iota Foundation 
501(c)3 non-profit organization utilized to obtain funding for charitable causes and philanthropic programming.
The I.O.T.A. (Intelligent, Outstanding, Talented Achievers) Youth Alliance 
A national umbrella program through which individual chapters of Iota Phi Theta address the needs of Black Youth in their communities.
The Digital Heritage Initiative 
African-American History Education Initiative.
The Afya (aah-fee-yah) Njema (j-ma) Program 
which means “Good Health” in Swahili, is a concept which allows the fraternity to deal with a number of “health-related” issues faced by African-Americans and persons of African descent. Physical/Mental/Spiritual Health program.
The Developing Better Fatherhood Project 
Initiative to combat the issue of the retention of fathers in the lives of their children.
The IOTA Political Mobilization Campaign 
Political Action, Political Education, Voter Mobilization Program.
Iota Minority Political Mobilization 
Through this program Iota seeks to make minorities aware of their role in the political process.
Community Reclamation Initiative 
Program to address the breakdown of the African-American community. The concept of “community” has always been important for African-Americans. From the time of slavery to the Civil Rights Movement, the idea that the community would sustain itself as a cohesive unit for the purpose of survival was paramount.
Cultural Education Movement 
Initiative to promote the historical value and the contributions of the African and African-American cultures to the world at large.
Junior Achievement

Notable members[6][edit]

Military and public service[edit]

Business and academia[edit]

  • Harry Alford: President & CEO, National Black Chamber of Commerce
  • Gary Burgess: Senior Vice-President, Human Resources, Crown Holdings
  • Raymond Grady: Chief Administrative Officer and Senior Vice President, Aurora Healthcare
  • Kevin Lofton: President and CEO, Catholic Health Initiatives
  • Shelley Stewart: Vice President & Chief Procurement Officer, DuPont Company
  • Dr. Christopher Catching: Assistant Provost, Hofstra University
  • Sterling Hudson: Former Dean of Admissions, Morehouse College
  • Dr. Brian K. Johnson: Former President, Montgomery County College
  • John P. May, MD: CEO, “Health Through Walls”
  • Dr. J. Keith Motley: Chancellor, University of Massachusetts
  • Dr. Steven Ray: Fisher Professor of Systematic Theology, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary
  • David Odige: Founder of the I-PhiT Initiative (Implementing Public Health Initiatives Throughout…)
  • Zemira Jones: President &. General Manager, WLS Radio, Chicago, Illinois. Initiated at Nu Chapter (University of Maryland), Spring 1972
  • Paul C. Ansah: Vice President of International Hotel Development, Marriott International, Inc., Accra, Ghana. Initiated at Nu Chapter (University of Maryland), Spring 2000
  • Cory Hill-Crudup: CEO & President of & Senior Manager, Apple Inc. Initiated at Alpha Chi (San Francisco State University), Fall 2005
  • Criag Spencer: Director of Sales, Global Payments,Inc. Initiated at Alpha Chapter (Morgan State University), Spring 1980


Media and entertainment[edit]