The Omega Psi Phi graduate fraternity has taken Salt Lake City's Riley Elementary under its wing.
The predominantly African American fraternity has teamed up with the University of Utah men's basketball squad to adopt the Title I (lowincome) school.
The fraternity will raise money for the Glendale school, stage motivational assemblies and try to be a positive presence on a campus where 84 percent of students are ethnic minorities, including 7 percent African American and 62 percent Latino. The Omegas, as they're called, will also donate $50,000 in school supplies, coats and warm clothes.
"It will provide students with strong African American male role models," said principal Bobbie Kirby, noting students "will see African American males can be scientists, lawyers; they can be university professors."
To kick off the partnership, members of the fraternity and Runnin' Utes coach Jim Boylen held an assembly for Riley Elementary students last week.
The players themselves didn't attend -- students will have to earn the team's visit through academic achievement and good behavior.
One by one, successful black men took the stage: a chemist, a lawyer, an entertainer, a systems analyst, the associate dean of the University of Utah College of Education.
Their message: Don't ever give up, and never find excuses to fail.
"My best friend was shot and killed in front of me," Sharrieff Shah, a lawyer and former Ute football player told students. "Now, I could've taken the excuse, and said, 'Listen, they took my best friend right now. Should I get them back?' No. ... because that would've been an excuse to do wrong. That would have been an excuse to go to jail. There are no excuses."
It wasn't easy, Shah said, but from that day on, he vowed to do his best in life. "Let me hear you say it," Shah said. "There are no excuses!" "There are no excuses!" students yelled in unison.
William A. Smith, associate dean of the University of Utah College of Education, said the local Omegas
chapter is comprised of about 15 college-educated career men dedicated to giving back to the community and inspiring minorities, especially young African-American men and boys, to succeed. "We don't stop at undergrad," Smith said. "We give a lot of time and money all the way until we're no longer on this earth."
The Omegas presented a Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. flag to the school and brought several basketballs -
- each signed by Boylen and the entire Utah hoops team -- for students to earn as rewards. The Omegas
plan to enlist other Utah athletic teams to the cause.
Smith said he remembers the impact a group of professional football players, who reached out to his Chicago school, had on him when he was growing up. "They changed the whole school around," Smith said. "Just their presence made attendance go up, made grades go up. So we're hoping just our presence will benefit everybody."