Alumni Profiles

Brotherly Love

In 1969, in the wake of a deadly protest against police brutality of racial minorities in Camden, Rutgers–Camden began a concerted effort to recruit more underrepresented students. Two years later, four African American students approached the dean with an idea about how the school could better represent this new cohort on campus. By the end of 1971, those students, along with 13 others, were inducted into Rutgers–Camden’s first African American fraternity.

For these young men—the original members of the Omega Psi Phi fraternity—Greek life became a quintessential part of the college experience. “It’s a lifestyle on campus that provides leadership opportunities, opportunities for camaraderie,” says Elbert Saddler CCAS’75 a retired university psychologist in Schwenksville, Pennsylvania, who was one of the fraternity’s founding members. “It’s a way of collaborating that gives you focus and an opportunity to be productive and recognized on campus.”

A Homecoming—and Tribute

Fifty years later, in August 2021, nine members of that original class along with their families and friends celebrated their groundbreaking achievement with a weekend of events planned by the founding members themselves. After a tour of the Rutgers–Camden campus and a reception on the Camden waterfront, the reunion culminated in a dinner attended by about 75 people at the Crowne Plaza in Cherry Hill.

“It was like a homecoming,” says Larry Jones UCC’74, a founding member and retired banker who traveled from his home in Estero, Florida, to attend the event. “The experience was one you would get when you hadn’t seen family for decades.”

The reunion included a moving tribute to five original brothers who have since passed away, with each brother’s family receiving a certificate and sharing what the fraternity meant to their loved one.

Humble Beginnings

As a student at Camden High School, Jones had been part of a club that modeled itself on college fraternities. The group hosted events—and even wore matching sweaters. But when it came time for college, Jones thought he might never join a real fraternity. “My family couldn’t afford to send me away to a college where there were Black fraternities,” he says. “I wanted that experience.” So, Jones jumped at the chance to join Omega Psi Phi when he heard about it at a meeting on campus.

Jones and Saddler were part of the inaugural cohort inducted in separate ceremonies in 1971. Eleven brothers were inducted on May 8 of that year, with the remaining six following suit in September after taking summer classes to meet the academic requirements. Until they were able to form their own chapter, the members were taken in by a graduate chapter of the fraternity, Chi Upsilon, which was already based in Camden. By December, the fraternity was awarded an undergraduate chapter, Tau Beta.

Doing Well and Doing Good

Soon the fraternity was making itself known on campus. The group hosted a food drive for city residents and its members volunteered with East Camden children during summer breaks. Omega Psi Phi also put on a step show in front of the College Center. In 1973, the fraternity secured its own house on North Third Street.

“Even though it was a commuting college at the time and there were no dormitories,” Jones says, “we still had a way of manifesting that college experience.”

A Lifetime Contribution

The details are unclear but, Jones says, the fraternity folded within about a decade of its founding. Yet the original members of Omega Psi Phi kept in touch, wishing each other “happy anniversary” every May 8—with some going an extra step. For example, Gene Alston Jr. CCAS’76 and Bienvenido Calaf Jr. CCAS’74 founded the Camden-based insurance agency Alston-Calaf and Associates in 1979, and they continued supporting the fraternity’s food drive for more than two decades.

Saddler says he’s proud of being part of Omega Psi Phi. “It’s something I can look back on and say, ‘I made a contribution on campus to Rutgers–Camden. It’s very important that we go through life and we’re making a contribution.”

Indeed, their efforts laid the groundwork for more than lifelong friendships. Although the Omega Psi Phi chapter is no longer active at Rutgers–Camden, there are six Greek organizations with active charters at Rutgers–Camden that belong to the National Pan-Hellenic Council, an association of African American fraternities and sororities. These include the fraternities Alpha Phi Alpha, Kappa Alpha Psi, and Phi Beta Sigma. For more information, visit