Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity chapter hosting Dover MLK breakfast

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Truman Bolden helps set up the banquet room at the Modern Maturity Center in Dover for this morning’s annual breakfast honoring Martin Luther King Jr. (Special to the Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh)

DOVER — For more than three decades, the Zeta Rho Lamda Chapter of the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity has held a prayer breakfast to celebrate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Expectations are that the event, which typically draws more than 800 people, will continue to grow for generations to come.

“It’s a day on and not a day off,” said Ron Price, chairman of the MLK Breakfast Committee. “It’s important that we never forget about the sacrifices Dr. King made towards fighting for racial equality.”

Held at the Modern Maturity Center on Forrest Avenue, doors open at 7 a.m. today with the program beginning at 8:30.

The prayer breakfast’s beginnings can be traced to 1979, when the Alpha Phi Alpha General Convention established the Martin Luther King Jr. Prayer Breakfast, and recommended a recognition breakfast be held by all chapters of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity.

Dr. King’s birthday was Jan. 15; the event has long been held on the state Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, the third Monday of January.

Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc., a chartered nonprofit corporation, was the first collegiate fraternity for African-American men. It was founded Dec. 4, 1906, at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. The Zeta Rho Lamda Chapter was chartered in Dover in 1956.

The prayer breakfast has come a long way over the years, Mr. Price said.

The fraternity’s inaugural prayer breakfast in Dover was held on Jan. 16, 1984, at Union Missionary Baptist Church in Dover.

The speaker was the late Mal Goode, a renowned journalist for Black Entertainment Television and a fraternity brother.

“It started to take on a life its own,” Mr. Price said.

Growth and moves

Union Missionary Baptist Church hosted the prayer breakfast for the first three years, but as it grew in popularity so did the need for additional space.

The breakfast was moved to the auditorium of Dover’s William Henry Middle School, where it remained for the next seven years.

But the event outgrew that space, too, and was relocated to the larger Modern Maturity Center.

“It just kept growing,” Mr. Price said. “When the program  first started I don’t think they knew how big it was going to be.

“I don’t think they knew it would have the legs to live this long, but it has evolved into something great. That’s what you want with any program.”

Modern Maturity Center CEO Carolyn Fredricks considers it an honor to hold the event at the senior center, which opens its banquet facility to a number of organizations.

“We know exactly what they want when they call on us,” Ms. Fredricks said. “We’re happy to be there for them.”

She also appreciates the reason for the prayer breakfast.

“It’s something special honoring Dr. King and we’re just happy to be a part of it,” she said.

The program consists of music and entertainment followed by a guest speaker.

Fraternity brother Brian L. Nixon, plant manager for INVISTA, will serve as today’s featured speaker. INVISTA, based in Seaford, produces nylon products.

Working out the details

Much time and effort are spent annually by chapter committee members to present a program that will be challenging, forthright and dedicated to Dr. King, Mr. Price said.

“You have to be a member of the fraternity to be a part of the committee to help put this together,” he said.

The committee consists of 20 members who meet throughout the year to make sure the flow of the program is consistent.

“We reach out to the speaker a year in advance,” Mr. Price said. “Once we nail the speaker down, then we start putting together the program.”

The event has evolved over the years, he said, in large part because of the rising number of youths attending.

“It used to be an older audience that used to come out to the breakfast,” Mr. Price said. “But over the years we’re starting to see a much younger crowd.

“So now we have different Christian bands that come there, or different musical acts that caters to that audience.”

Mr. Price said the event gives the younger generation a more hands-on education about Dr. King.

“The history books teach us one thing, but the true history is when you’re able to sit with people who lived through that time to get a different perspective.”

Mr. Price points out that some of the people who attend the event “were kids or even teenagers during that time and were experiencing everything Dr. King was advocating for.

“It gives the young people who attend a better understanding what was going on back then,” he said.

“You get a better picture when you’re actually talking to these people.”

His hope is that the younger generation continues to carry on Dr. King’s legacy.

“Even though we were over some of those hurdles back then, we still have to deal with some of those same challenges today,” Mr. Price said.

“But that’s why this breakfast is important, because it recognizes the importance of Dr. King, and we just hope the breakfast last for generations to come.”

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