rigo-garcia_web.jpgFORT LAUDERDALE — Motivated by President Barack Obama’s call to the nation to help mentor minority youths, the Fort Lauderdale Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity is planning to extend its mentoring program to include 6-8 graders.

“We have to start earlier to have a big impact,” chapter president Rigo Garcia.  “We are hoping it will show up in the outcome of them becoming better world leaders.” Garcia pointed to Obama’s “My Brother’s Keeper” as the reason for making a more determined effort to reach younger minority youth.

The Obama initiative, announced in February, seeks to help African-American, Hispanic-American and Native-American boys and young men stay out of the criminal justice system and pursue higher education.  Businesses, foundations and community groups would coordinate investments to create and support programs to support the initiative.

The fraternity and its activities came under the spotlight Saturday when it celebrated its 60th anniversary with its annual Black and White Ball at the Hyatt Regency Pier 66 Hotel in Fort Lauderdale.

Rigo said proceeds from the “party with a purpose” will would provide scholarships to students and help its mentoring program and other community initiatives.

The fraternity provides mentoring, as well as enrichment and scholarships to young black men from grades nine through 12, Garcia said. The youth learn about different vocations and test-taking skills and receive tutoring.

 Student enrichment projects include field trips such as a visit last year to Miami International Airport to learn about careers in aviation, Garcia said.  A fraternity brother, Brent Folks, a pilot, is helping students learn about the aviation industry.

 Students also took part in a tobacco prevention campaign that was promoted on a local television news broadcast.

Alfred Battle III, a 19-year-old political science major who will begin his sophomore year at Jacksonville University, spoke at the ball about participating in the campaign during the Light Up Sistrunk event where the students held a banner and passed out fliers and school supplies to children.

 “We were there to let them know to stop selling candy-flavored tobacco to young kids,” Battle said.

Battle, whose father is a Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity member, was a member of the mentoring program throughout high school and received a collegiate scholarship. 

“It helped me to be a confident leader,” Battle said.  “I am a person who likes to help those in need and to lead.  You can have a lot of Indians and sometimes you need a chief.”

Fraternity members check on his progress and he stays in contact with students from the program seeking his advice on college and being a student athlete; he is a cornerback for the football team.

The fraternity is also active in the community. Last summer, it provided staffing for voting polls through the office of Congressman Alcee Hastings, D-Fla., and assisted the NAACP with voter registration drives, Garcia said.

The fraternity also distributed $20,000 worth of condoms during National Women & Girls HIV/Aids Awareness Month in March, partnering with Broward Health and with other groups to promote the practice of safe sex, Garcia said.

 In another area, Kappa Alpha Psi partners with the America Tennis Association – founded by African Americans – to work with the city of Fort Lauderdale to promote tennis leagues and summer camps. Garcia said inspiration for this initiative came from first lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move!” campaign against childhood obesity which started in 2010.

The 75-member chapter has had several prominent members, Garcia said, including the late Dr. Calvin Shirley, the first black ob-gyn in Broward County, for whom a Fort Lauderdale street is named.

Another fraternity member, Dr. James Bass, Fort Lauderdale’s first black dentist was honored when Bass Park, at 2750 NW 19th St., was named for him, saluting the help he provided so many black students to attend college.

 “We are a group of college-educated men that strive to be the best in their vocation or walk in life,” Garcia said.  “Our mission is achievement.”