If you walk into the student union on a Tuesday, you might be greeted with a yellow rose. While some may see it as merely a flower, to the men of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Incorporated, the yellow rose represents a profound history and a way of life.
Founded in 1906 on a cold, snowy Tuesday night at Cornell University, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. is the oldest Black fraternity in the United States.
As Black men at a predominantly white institution, added pressure was placed on the founders to present themselves as men of excellence and exemplary character.
In honor of these efforts and in remembrance of their cherished history and values, members of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. participate in Ice Cold Tuesdays, when they dress in their finest suits and hand out yellow roses — the fraternity’s official flower — to women around campus.
Jatoni Donelson, a senior public health and health sciences double major, explained what the yellow rose means to him.
“To me, the yellow rose is not only a symbol or representation of our fraternity’s flower, but it is also a token of appreciation that we are able to share with women to make them feel valued,” Donelson said. “It is how me and my brothers showcase our respect for womanhood to the best of our abilities.”
Junior Frederick Williams, a political science and African American studies double major, finds joy in the tradition because of the positive impact it has on those around him.
“The vast majority of the reactions that I get from giving out a yellow rose are positive,” Williams said. “There’s at least one person that tells me that I made their day.”
Participating in Ice Cold Tuesdays is just one of the many traditions associated with being a man of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.
Williams explained that being an Alpha man is something that informs every part of his life.
“I could honestly go on and on about what being an Alpha man means to me, but to keep it short, it means being the one to lead by example,” Williams said. “It means shattering the limitations that are placed on Black men in society; it means being a community servant as well because we can only be as good as the community around us.”
Williams serves his community in various ways, namely by being the political action chair for UM’s chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
“I do not take any of my roles lightly, as I know that putting my best foot forward means that something positive will result from this,” Williams said. “I believe that advocating for the social justice of minorities is a fight that is ongoing and is of the utmost importance.”
Donelson agreed that being an active community member is an integral aspect of membership in the fraternity.
“Being an Alpha man to me also means being a strong leader in every aspect of life regardless of whether it’s in a position on campus or within your community,” Donelson said.
Similarly to Williams, Donelson is involved across campus. He serves as the 2024 National Pan-Hellenic Council president and president of the Black Fashion Society, in addition to being an active member in a variety of other organizations.
To Donelson, being an Alpha man is about honoring the founding values whilst living a life of Black excellence.
“Being an Alpha man to me is being a man of distinction, upholding the high values and standards that my jewels founded the organization on and making sure that I live by those,” Donelson said.