Kappa award to Eddie Long not fitting, some argue

The Philadelphia Tribune/March 3, 2017

Thousands gathered at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in DeKalb County, Ga. in January to pay their respects to the late Bishop Eddie Long.

Two months later, one brief moment in the hours-long ceremony is causing rifts within the historic mostly-Black fraternity, Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc.

“Brother Long was indeed the ideal Kappa man,” said Thomas Battles, Jr., grand polemarch of the fraternity, said at Long’s funeral service at New Birth Missionary Baptist. “On behalf of our brothers, we have this Laurel Wreath pin. With permission, this grand polemarch intends to give it to you right now.”

In a tribute that can be seen on a YouTube video of the entire service, Battles can be seen handing the pin to Long’s wife Vanessa.

The award the pin symbolizes is the highest honor given to a Kappa member. Past recipients of the Laurel Wreath include tennis star Arthur Ashe, basketball legend Bill Russell and civil rights leader Dr. Leon Sullivan.

However South Carolina State Rep. Cezar McKnight insists Long is not the ideal Kappa man.

“I was totally put off by the fact that we would give our organization’s highest award to someone with the reputation of Eddie Long,” said McKnight, a fraternity member since 1996, in an interview Friday with The Tribune.

Long became the senior pastor at New Birth in 1987. The church congregation swelled from 300 members to 25,000 during his tenure, making New Birth one of the largest congregations in the United States. Long expanded his reach through television programming and satellite churches in Miami, Denver and Charlotte, N.C.

Long was designated to receive the Laurel Wreath award at the Kappa Alpha Psi centennial celebration in 2011, according to local Kappa member Anthony Jackson. Jackson is the current keeper of records of the fraternity’s Philadelphia alumni chapter.

Long never received the award.

“All we know is that when the award winners were announced, he was not among them,” Jackson said.

Laurel Wreath award winners are nominated and then voted on at the Grand Chapter meeting every two years. This means Long was nominated and approved to receive the award in 2009.

In 2010, four young men filed lawsuits against Long accusing him of seducing them into sexual relationships for clothes, cars and travel. Of the four, two of the men accused Long of grooming them while they were still in the church’s youth academy, according to several reports.

“Between 2009 and 2011 everything we knew about Eddie Long was different than at the time he was designated,” Jackson said.

While never admitting any wrongdoing, Long settled the case out of court for an undisclosed amount.

“He was an embarrassment to our organization,” McKnight said. “Eddie does not belong in the pantheon of great Kappas.”

McKnight is among a number of fraternity brothers who are upset with the grand polemarch’s actions at Long’s funeral. While he does not have an opinion on Long posthumously receiving the pin, Jackson says it is important to recognize that the late pastor did not receive the award.

“The polemarch did not convey the wreath on Eddie Long,” Jackson insists. “The Laurel Wreath is not awarded that way.”

McKnight described the splitting of hairs when it came to the rules of the award as semantics, saying, “To the non-initiated it looks like Kappa gave this sexual predator the highest honor.”

In response, McKnight decided to no longer pay dues or provide financial assistance to the fraternity, and wrote his intentions to Battles, in a letter to the group’s North Broad Street headquarters in Philadelphia.

“I love Kappa but I’m not going to be a party to anything that hurts children,” McKnight said in an interview.

While members like McKnight feel strongly about the issue, Jackson said there is not a “fire” within the fraternity on the matter. He said there have been no discussions on the issue within the Philadelphia alumni chapter.

“We didn’t see any reason to get in an uproar,” Jackson said. “I understand what the grand polemarch was trying to do. I think he was trying to bring some closure to the Eddie Long episode.”

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