Iota Phi Theta Fraternity, Inc. (Iota), the most recently formed black Greek-letter organization, was founded on September 19, 1963 on the campus of Morgan State University in Baltimore, Maryland. Established by twelve men who were active in the local civil rights movement, early Iota members differed from the members of other black Greek-letter organizations in that they were mostly non-traditional students–older students, military veterans, and men with wives and children. They wanted a support network but did not have the time, resources, or inclination to follow the patterns of the older fraternities and sororities. Their ideas were incorporated into the fraternity motto, “Building a Tradition, Not Resting Upon One.”
Today the fraternity has approximately 35,000 members in 270 chapters in the United States, the Bahamas, and South Korea. Fraternity members include former Black Panther and now Chicago Congressman Bobby Rush, Spencer Christian, former weather anchorman, Good Morning, America, television actor Terrence “T.C.” Carson, Elvin Hayes and Calvin Murphy, National Basketball Association Hall of Famers, and Major General W. Montague Winfield, U.S. Army.
Iota Phi Theta Fraternity has as a guiding principle the refusal to have its members bind themselves to a defined fraternal image. Instead they celebrate the individuality of each member. The fraternity also takes pride in its national programs which focus on the disenfranchised. One program, the Developing Better Fatherhood Project, is an initiative designed to encourage fathers to remain married and support their children despite their poverty. This project seeks to reclaim the value of a father as a mentor, role model, and supporter of the emotional state of the child.
The fraternity also manages other programs such as the National Iota Foundation which is a clearing house for funding inner city development programs. The Foundation has contributed over $250,000 towards grants, aid, and services in high poverty neighborhoods. The fraternity also runs a Black College Tour which takes inner city high school students to historically black colleges and universities in hopes that they will eventually attend college.
The Iota Youth Alliance allows individual chapters to craft programs that address the concerns of youth in their communities. This initiative led to the African Male Educational program, a mentoring program for boys ages eight to thirteen designed to enhance their social, academic, and leadership skills. Another unusual project is the Digital Heritage Initiative which provides computer education and skills to inner city youth.
Iota also has projects that mirror those of the older Greek-letter organizations including political action voter registration, education and cultural awareness, and physical mental health programs.