Posted: August 14th, 2023
The concept of Pro Humanitate can be defined and applied in many ways, whether it’s through one’s career, their personal life, or their civic engagements. But what remains constant is that Pro Humanitate is about action—the action of using one’s skills, expertise, and privilege to better the world. It often manifests in taking on leadership roles, participating in community service, or collaborating with others to effect positive change. As Professor Gregory Parks runs for General President of the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Incorporated, he does so with the spirit of Pro Humanitate.
After nine months of campaigning, Professor Parks was recently chosen as one of two nominees to be the international head of Alpha Phi Alpha. It’s been a long and winding road for Professor Parks, but one that he hopes will result in his election in January 2024 as General President-Elect of the organization that has had such a tremendous impact on him.
Founded in 1906 at Cornell University, Alpha Phi Alpha quickly proliferated across the United States (and later the world), rising to prominence as the first intercollegiate, Black Greek-letter organization (“BGLO”). The fraternity boasts many luminary members, including civil rights leaders Thurgood Marshall, Martin Luther King, Jr., WEB Du Bois, Whitney Young, and others.
For Professor Parks, Alpha Phi Alpha is not about simply prestige, or even just about academic excellence, selfless service, and advocacy for the community—although those are tenets that both he and the fraternity hold dear. For him, Alpha Phi Alpha is, at its core, about brotherhood. “I grew up with three sisters,” he says. “But when I was a teenager, I met Barry Hargrove, who was one of my eldest sister’s best friends from college. He basically became a part of our family, and he was like an actual brother to me. It was the first time I felt what it was like to have a brother, and I knew that sense of connection and community was something I not only wanted but needed in my life.” When Professor Parks decided to join Alpha Phi Alpha, it was (later) Reverend Hargrove (as well as Professor Parks’ brother-in-law, Wayne Williams, and the Assistant General Counsel of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, Sam Tarver) who sponsored him.
After graduating from Howard University and going on to earn two master’s degrees, a PhD, and a JD, Professor Parks clerked on the District of Columbia Court of Appeals for Chief Judge Anna Blackburne-Rigsby and on the United States Court of Appeals for the Honorable Andre M. Davis (also a member of Alpha Phi Alpha). He also served as a litigator with McDermott Will & Emery (he was recruited to the firm by Melvin White, another member of Alpha Phi Alpha and a past President of the DC Bar). Eventually, Professor Parks joined the faculty at Wake Forest Law (he was recruited by then Dean Blake Morant, another member of Alpha Phi Alpha and a past President of the American Association of Law Schools). Professor Parks has served as the School of Law’s Associate Dean for Research, Faculty Development, & Public Engagement as well as Associate Dean for Strategic Initiatives (now a member of the university’s Strategic Framing Working Group). He also served on the Executive Committee of the university Faculty Senate as well as on the Board of Trustees Budget Committee.
Throughout his career, Professor Parks remained deeply involved with Alpha Phi Alpha, serving in a number of leadership roles at many levels of the organization. He was a college chapter advisor, alumni chapter vice president, and alumni chapter president for the Winston-Salem alumni chapter. He also served as a regional Associate Legal Counsel and the national chair of the fraternity’s Commission on Racial Justice.
As his research interests evolved, Professor Parks’ professional life dovetailed with his passion for Greek life. Many of the books he has written or edited are about fraternities and sororities—making him one of the leading national experts on these organizations and a range of issues they face. His research on hazing and hazing prevention led to him being sought out as an expert witness and trial consultant on dozens of civil and criminal hazing cases. He also served on the Board of Directors for the national nonprofit HazingPrevention.org from 2014-2018 and on the North American Interfraternity Conference’s Hazing Awareness and Prevention Presidential Commission from 2014-2017.
While he has devoted much of his career to better understanding fraternities and sororities, his dedication to Alpha Phi Alpha extends beyond the professional realm into the deeply personal. Alpha Phi Alpha represents the ideals that Professor Parks himself values: leadership, advocacy on behalf of marginalized groups, community and civic engagement. He is a Life Member of the NAACP, served as an executive board member for the Winston Salem Urban League, served as an executive officer on the National Bar Association’s Civil Rights Section, and is a regular invitee to the NAACP-Legal Defense Fund’s annual strategy retreat.
Professor Parks’ own scholarship provides meaningful insight into how he thinks about leadership, especially on the most critical issues, within fraternities and sororities, generally, and BGLOs, more specifically. In a 2019 article, Professor Parks underscored that the single biggest predictor as to whether hierarchical organizations like BGLOs will meaningfully address their greatest challenges is who their senior-most leaders are. Piggybacking on this work, in a 2020 article, he also underscored that a more progressive leadership philosophy and organizational ethos–e.g., committed to the “leaven of [organizational] self-examination, evidence-based problem-solving, innovation, and organizational culture change (shaping hearts and minds as well as policies and procedures)”—likely lead to more transformative outcomes for BGLOs.
As indicated by his public endorsements, many Alpha Phi Alpha brothers agree that change is instrumental to the continued success of the fraternity, and that Professor Parks is the leader to make it happen. “Unquestionably, for more than a decade, Brother Parks has nudged, pushed, prodded, and inspired Alpha towards change,” says Tyree Irving, Past Mississippi Court of Appeals Judge and Chair of the Mississippi Democratic Party. Dr. Rahn K. Bailey, 113th President of the National Medical Association says, “Over the years, I have witnessed Brother Parks be a voice of conscience for the Fraternity [and] offer evidence-based insights and solutions to some of Alpha’s most challenging problems.” Christopher Graham, Immediate Past President of the Association of Fraternity and Sorority Advisors noted, “I support Brother Parks, because … he [understands] our most complex challenges coupled with a real data-informed, and strategic-centered plan to execute and deliver results that will advance our aims and fulfill our mission.”
Like Wake Forest, Alpha Phi Alpha’s motto serves as their north star: “First of All, Servants of All, We Shall Transcend All.” Regardless of the outcome of the election, Professor Parks will continue to be a servant to his beloved fraternity. “Alpha Phi Alpha is not just an organization to me. It’s a part of my identity and a brotherhood of men I am honored to be in community with.”
Recently, his nephew became a member of Alpha Phi Alpha and eventually the president of the Virginia State University chapter. It was his nephew who seconded Professor Parks’ nomination for General President. That moment was emblematic for Professor Parks and represented his journey with Alpha Phi Alpha—his blood family converging with his chosen family.