Omega Psi Phi – Ep.80

Alpha Phi Alpha – Ep.79
February 1, 2023
The Prince Hall Masons – Ep.81
February 16, 2023

Imani Kuumba of Omega Psi Phi shares the history of the fraternity’s motto and principles and explains the origin and significance of stepping. 

Melyssa Barrett:  Welcome to the Jali Podcast. I’m your host, Melyssa Barrett. This podcast is for those who are interested in the conversation around equity, diversity, and inclusion. Each week I’ll be interviewing a guest who has something special to share or is actively part of building solutions in the space. Let’s get started.

Imani Kuumba has been a member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity Incorporated for over 35 years. Imani is currently a member of the Delta Iota Iota Chapter in the Central Valley of California. Imani has held several leadership positions within the fraternity, from Bacillus, President, to keeper of finance, Treasurer. Imani currently holds the position of keeper of records and seal, Secretary. He was elected Omega Man of the year in 2021 and 2022 by his Chapter and NorCal Omega Man of the Year in 2022 by the NorCal District. Imani has dedicated his life to the advancement and betterment of all black people everywhere. Imani considers himself a Pan-Africanist. Imani holds a bachelor’s degree in African-American studies from San Jose State University and he’s the sole proprietor of Unchained and Unchanged Movement. You can contact Imani at That’s I-M-A-N-I dot K-U-U-M-B-A at delta,

Well, I am so excited to have Imani Kuumba with me today. You are such a friend, brother. I just so appreciate you. So I’m excited to have you here representing your fraternity. And so for Black History Month, one of the things I wanted to do is really just highlight these tremendous organizations, the Divine Nine as they’re called, and your fraternity of course is one of those. So I was hoping you could give us a little background on how the Omegas got started and maybe a little bit about what they’re focused on.

Imani Kuumba:  Thank you for having me and I’m glad to be here. And yes, I consider you a friend as well. And my name is Imani Kuumba. I’m a member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity Incorporated, and we got started on Friday evening, November 17th, 1911 at the campus of Howard University where we had three undergraduate students, Edgar A. Love, Oscar J. Cooper, and Frank Coleman with the assistants of their faculty advisor, Ernest Everett Just, and they met in brother Justs’ office, which was the biology office, which is now known as the Thirkeild Hall. And they came up with Omega Psi Phi. At that time, they came up with four cardinal principles, manhood, scholarship, perseverance, and uplift, as well as the motto, “Friendship is essential to the soul.” And they came up with the Greek symbols, Omega Psi Phi, which interpreted is as friendship is essential to the soul.

Melyssa Barrett:  Love it.

Imani Kuumba:  And we work and we are mandated as chapters to do mandated programs. And we have at least 10 of those. We got two added this year if they haven’t came across the… They haven’t been enacted or acted yet. But the ones we’ve been doing in the past and where we’ll continue to do is Achievement Week. And that’s when we have our Founders Day banquet, which you probably have been to or even heard of, where we give recognition to all the brothers who have done good in their community as well as citizens in the community we give awards to. We have scholarships, we have Social Action, we have Talent Hunt program. In fact, our Chapter here at Delta Iota Iota is doing our first Talent Hunt. And what’s coming up in March. And so right now we’re doing the auditions and seeking talent now. So if you know any high school students who have talent who wants to be in it, they can contact us on our website

We also have memorial service where we recognized all the fallen men of Omega. Every 12th of March we have a memorial service. Reclamation retention, we try to reclaim and retain members. College endowment fund, we give at least $50,000 a year to all the historic black community colleges. Health initiative, voter registration, education and mobilization. And also we support the NAACP. We ask all members to be members of NACC, NAACP, as well as we mandate every chapter to be a life member.

Melyssa Barrett:  I love it.

Imani Kuumba:  So we finally adhered to that this year and became a life member with the Stockton branch of the NAACP.

Melyssa Barrett:  Fantastic. I love it. I love it. And you’re probably one of the best people to answer this question, but when I think about the Divine Nine and all of the organization that had to come about from really 1906 through what, 1963, with so many of those organizations being created. What’s your opinion of what that has done for the African American community over the years? Now we’re into 2023.

Imani Kuumba:  I mean, yes, you talk about the foundation or the growth of the black community and most of the organizations started to allow us as a people to have something that’s in common and then we can do for ourselves and be about ourselves. And so with the Alphas 1906 started with them. And I appreciate the Alphas and how they started in 1906 because they kept some Africanness to it even though we’re representing Greek organizations. And so I like part of it. They had the Sphinx as well as some of the things that they do. So they kept that part of Africa connected, to have kept us connected to it. But it’s very important that, and one of the things that we realize as we see black people, we tend to gather in cliques, we gather who we feel comfortable around and that’s no problem. We started out in Africa as tribes and we still have tribes in Africa.

But the problem comes in when we think one tribe is better than the other tribe, and we practice what we call “tribalism.” So this organization didn’t fit for me. So somebody say, “You know what? I think we should have this organization that fits for me and we will attract other people.” And that’s what our fraternities, sororities have done to attract our people, to give them a space where they can feel comfortable with who they are, different from other African-Americans because we’re not monistic. We come in different shapes and sizes, different attitudes, different opinions and all that stuff. So they helped that even to the last one, Iotas in 1963, so far apart. Even they say, “Hey, I’m not feeling the other ones. I feel different. So let’s do this.” So it is all good as long as we don’t practice that divide and conquer that we’ve been taught to do. And I think it worked out for us.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yeah. No, that’s awesome. I think Omegas are certainly known for their stepping along with many of the Divine Nine, really all of them have some form of step. I know you’ve done a lot of research on stepping, and I’m wondering if you can maybe give us a little bit of history when it comes to stepping and where it came from and why it’s so significant.

Imani Kuumba:  Yes, I can do that. Let me start with saying that Omegas, we do have a distinctive way of stepping. In fact, we call it hopping. So we come from stepping to marching to hopping, and that’s Omegas. Everyone else still stepping, marching. And could we bring something different to the table? It used to be called marching. And then stepping became the new phrase for that. It comes out of Africa and the nineteen hundreds we can start with what… Of course we know the drum and the rhythmic and the beat and the clapping and all that comes. And that’s all stepping is. It was in 1739 where they had what they call a Stono Rebellion, which was in South Carolina. It was near what they call the Stono Riverbank. And we had about 20 enslaved Africans rebelling, going down the street drumming, gathering more enslaved Africans and starting the rebellion.

Of course, with the drumming, it would bring attention, not to just the more enslaved Africans to join, but the colonists who was colonizing and enslaving us. So eventually they broke that up, killed most of them, and then as a takeoff to that, they outlawed drumming. You couldn’t play the drum or own a drum. So with that, of course, with that creative genius, Africans started clapping on their bodies to create that rhythmic drum effect clapping their hands. And of course, every time you clapping and hitting yourself, you always find yourself taking a step here, taking a step there. So that’s one of the things that we had that gave a rise to stepping as we know it today. Then the other thing that was in history was they called this guy, it was Henry. And he was known as Master Juba, and it was a combination of African dancing and Irish jig.

And the Irish came over here as indentured servants as we was enslaved. So they do a lot of dancing too. So it was a combination of the African dancing and Irish jig. And with that combination, this guy Juba, he mastered it. He did it better than anybody else did, even white Irish who tried to be competitive with him. So he gained the name Master Juba. So he actually was precursor to tap dancing because the way he tapped and dance and stepped and all that. And he would do a little bit of that hopping we was talking about. So he would get up in the air and come down. And so that’s what separated him from the white Irish stepper or the jigs. Also, which you probably seen and heard is in South Africa you had the gumbo dancing. So that was 1888, where in South Africa you had the migrant workers go into South Africa, work in the mines and usually, and they would be in the stagnant water.

So eventually when you got water in that stagnant, it creates disease and so they would get sick. So what the owners did of the mines, they bought the workers what they call gum boots, which come knee-high. So they would put the knee-high gum boots on and then of course they wasn’t able to communicate with each other. So they would create a communication with slapping on their boots. And they was chained at the time they was doing it as well. So they rattling the chain, slapping on their boots, doing a little humming, so they was communicating with each other. Then that became a phenomenon, so it came out of the mines above ground and now you have gum boot dancers in South Africa that are around the world as well. So there was three, was the precursors to what we have modern day stepping with the fraternities and the sororities brought to the existence in the nineteen hundreds in America.

Melyssa Barrett:  I love it. I love when you drop some knowledge on us, Imani. I think a lot of people… I mean I’ve heard so many people, whether they’re black or otherwise, they don’t always know about the Divine Nine, but they definitely don’t know about the history that comes when we start talking about why we do what we do.

Imani Kuumba:  No, and also, let me add real quick. Before the fraternities and sororities start stepping, they would do singing and channeling. And then the fraternities would always be able to sing because they got some good voices, and they would serenade the women. Women would come around and watch them. Then eventually, if you just think about it, eventually, then you’ll start just circling, singing. And then before you know it, you walking and that step becomes a stomp. Then you be like, “Okay, what I got here. I got something right here.” And then they probably looked into it themselves and found out, “Hey, okay, we can do more with this if we just do this and do that.” And it’s kind of like… But stepping didn’t come right away. It was singing and chanting to celebrate their new members to boast about their fraternity or the sorority over the other fraternity and sororities. And it is all within fun as well. So listens, let me say that too. And we all have fun doing that.

Melyssa Barrett:  Absolutely, absolutely. Let’s pause for a moment. We’ll be right back.

Thank you so much for giving us a little bit of background. So I do want to make sure that we give you some ample time to talk about some of the… I know you talked about the Talent Hunt. Are there other events that you all have coming up?

Imani Kuumba:  Yes, Delta Iota Iota Chapter here in Central Valley home up with the DIE Hard Ques, we call it, where the warm arms of Omega stretches far and high comforting the homeless, feeding the hungry, and mentoring the youth. So that’s what we do here in the Central Valley along with those 10 mandated programs I mentioned earlier. So one of the things we got coming up is one of the things that I particularly came up with is what we call a Black Love Affair. And what I wanted to do with this, and my Chapter agreed that we wanted to get this off the ground, is to bring our community together and show love. And when we talk about black love and essentially always simple, it’s self-love. Simple as we can say, self-love. You can’t love someone else if you don’t love yourself. So we want to promote self-love and we want to just highlight and call it black love.

We’re not saying that we’re against any other type of love, but we just want to highlight our love, black love. So we have a dance and dinner on February 18th at the Hilton in Stockton, starts at 6:30 and you can go to, search Black Love Affair. You should be able to find it there and hopefully we can get a link in this to that. And the tickets are $65 and the proceeds goes to our scholarship. Once again, the things that we talked about earlier that we give out every year to high school students that’s going to college.

Melyssa Barrett:  Fantastic. I love it. And it’s for singles, couples, whoever wants to come join?

Imani Kuumba:  Oh yes, single or couples. If you’re single, invite more singles. If you’re a couple, invite more couples to have fun. We want to have most fun as possible. And part of what we’re going to have along with that is the music. It’s the music that brings us together. It’s the music that keeps us entertained and engaging with each other. And so we’re going to have some music. We have one of our famous DJs around here, DJ Dwayne. So he’s going be in the house, and of course he knows his music. He’s going to look at what era you come from, what generation, he’s going to play your song. You going to be like, “That’s my song.” And so we want to highlight some songs and also highlight our women in our lives, as well as you women, highlight the men in your life.

Melyssa Barrett:  Fantastic. I love it. I love it. A Black Love Affair.

Imani Kuumba:  Yes.

Melyssa Barrett:  And I think you are encouraging African attire as well?

Imani Kuumba:  Yes, I am. Thank you. This is a big part of it. We want to show our culture, and it is theme, African attire. It is not mandatory or required, but it’s a suggestion. And if you don’t have your are all out African skirt, dress that you want to wear, you thought you would be wearing, come on your best evening and an accident with a hair wrap, African print hair wrap, waist belt or shaw, as well as the man could do a hat, bow tie, or a scarf over their suit if they don’t have the African garb, African attire that they would like to have or think they need to have. But we are recommending African attire and with that we see ourselves dressed up in a suit and tie, gown. We know we look good, so just imagine how we going to look with some African attire.

Melyssa Barrett:  Right? That’s it.

Imani Kuumba:  And we’re taking pictures and we are giving the pictures out, so we will be taking pictures and be able to give the pictures out. My daughter is taking pictures and she thinks she’s pretty good at taking pictures, so I’m going to give her a chance to show her art.

Melyssa Barrett:  Show off her art. That’s it. That’s it. We got to support each other. I’m all about Ujamaa, that’s my thing.

Imani Kuumba:  Yes.

Melyssa Barrett:  So anytime we can promote and connect and collaborate, I just love it. So anything else you want to drop on us, Imani?

Imani Kuumba:  Yes, if I could think about it. Once again, when we talk about the fraternities, sororities, different organizations, and I say to the people who were not in the organization, get into some organization. And I read somewhere, actually, I know exactly where I read it from. Kwame Nkrumah, the first president of Ghana. He said, “Any organization is better than no organization.” So that means even if we see bad organization, don’t frown on it because they’re organized and all we got to do is lead them in the right direction. And it’s easier to get started and get things done when you organized, but if you’re not organized, it’s hard to get started. So getting some organization that’s uplifting and making our people progress.

Melyssa Barrett:  Amen to that, I love it. Love it. All right. Well, I cannot thank you enough, Imani Kuumba for joining us. I’m looking forward to A Black Love Affair and we’re always encouraged to be able to give back to the community through scholarships, and I just so much appreciate your passion and drive in leading the organization and your Chapter out here because I know there are many Omegas, many out there. But I appreciate you taking the time to come and join me on the Jali podcast and talk a little bit about Omega Psi Phi.

Imani Kuumba:  All right. Melyssa, I appreciate it and I’ve enjoyed this and it’s going to inspire me to go to the meeting I have to go to now with the brothers and have them… Once I get the link, I make sure they watch it.

Melyssa Barrett:  Absolutely, absolutely. We all about promoting each other, so thank you for… And please express my appreciation for all that they are doing and anything I can do to help encourage you all, I’m right here. So thank you for all you’re doing for the community and I appreciate it.

Imani Kuumba:  All right, thank you.

Melyssa Barrett:  All right. Take care.

Imani Kuumba:  All right, bye-bye.

Melyssa Barrett:  Thanks for joining me on the Jali Podcast. Please subscribe so you won’t miss an episode. See you next week.