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The B-Sides: Being an Omega Man

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Greg Phillips, Da'Wan Hunte and D.J. Knox (from left to right) are Purdue football players who also are in Omega Psi Phi.
Tom Campbell

B-Sides series: Tobias Larry | Jared Sparks | Danny Ezechukwu | Kirk Barron | Matt McCann

The tongues, the elaborate dances, the posing.

That easily can be the public perception of Omega Psi Phi.

The charismatic dances that include jumping, splits, torquing bodies in the air — it’s called “hopping” — is a very athletic show that requires extensive practice to get the mostly synchronized routines down. Those are the videos that pop up on social media, the group breaking out in a routine in the middle of a crowd.

The bent just-so elbows and hands pointed at a specific angle — the pose to signify an Omega — that’s what overwhelms photos that show up on Twitter.

The tongue featured in nearly all of those photos — sticking out at odd angles, hanging down — that’s because people in the fraternity consider themselves “dogs,” so pictures require an appropriate representation.

Da’Wan Hunte realizes folks can get caught up in all of that, all of those important-but-not-really-important pieces to Omega Psi Phi.

But, to be clear, being an Omega Man is much deeper than what it may appear.

Hunte, a recent Purdue graduate and senior on the football team, and D.J. Knox, a junior on the team, have known that since they were little, growing up in the South. Hunte and Knox, as well as teammate Greg Phillips, joined the fraternity in April after the chapter was revived at Purdue.

“We do a lot of community service. We do a lot of campus activities. Some things go unnoticed,” Hunte said. “But there are a lot of things you do that are past the fun. It’s just like playing football — you’ve got to put in a lot of work before you get to game day and you win football games. It’s the same way. We do a lot of behind-the-scenes, a lot of paperwork deals, a lot of things we have to deal with the campus, following rules, to be able to give us the opportunity to throw the parties and hop and do all those type of things. A lot of people don’t understand. But us being who we are, we carry the tradition well. We just try to make sure we handle business at the fraternity that needs to be handled, and then we also are having fun with it.”

Separately, Hunte and Knox both described ultimately becoming part of the fraternity a “dream.”

Knox, a Georgia native, first remembers being exposed to the organization when his aunt attended a historically black college, and it had a heavy presence on campus. He liked the idea of community, of tradition, of brotherhood that came with being an Omega. As he grew up, he realized nearly all of his coaches were involved in the fraternity, so he learned more and more about it and that just solidified his desire to join.

Hunte has a similar story. His high school football coach, his assistant principal, his principal in Miami — a handful of the key men in his life who were big influences on him — were all part of the fraternity.

“I just wanted to be part of something special like that and just having that lifelong brotherhood and having guys you can always turn (to),” Hunte said. “You first come to college, you don’t really know too much about the fraternity life and things like that. But I kind of had a good sense of it, just being around those mentors. I knew since middle school that I wanted to be a part of it. Knowing facts about it and does it really relate to you as a person? That was something I had to research and do my homework on.

“It couldn’t have come at a better time. It’s something I’m going to cherish for my life. It goes beyond even college. It’s something that I’ll always have as part of me.”

Not that the process to join was remotely easy.

Especially because when Hunte, Knox and Phillips arrived on Purdue’s campus about four years ago, there was not an Omega Psi Phi chapter on it. The university had dismissed the fraternity.

Hunte and Knox said it was an extensive process to get the fraternity revived — tons of paperwork, etc., done by grad chapters — but they were able to still pledge through those same grad chapters. There were other hoops, too, background checks, a considerable amount of interviews and networking, for members to get a real sense of who Hunte and Knox were and their motivations for wanting to become Omega men.

The motto of the organization is “friendship is essential to the soul,” so it’s imperative in the selection process that each pledge is viewed under that standard.

“We’re all about building friendships and that’s basically what the whole fraternity is built off. If we don’t feel a person is worthy as a friend, then you most likely won’t be part of the whole fraternity,” Hunte said. “We built a lot of relationships before we actually became members and that helped us, just being great men and carrying yourself the right way. We had to meet a lot of people, do interviews with people, just for them to get to know us and understand the type of man we were and how we were going to help the fraternity to be as great as it is.”

Then, finally, on April 5, Hunte, Knox, Phillips and three other men — they’re called “line brothers” — became members. Hunte said they were the first members on campus since 2014.

Throughout the summer, they were busy running programs, having cookouts, getting back involved with Purdue’s community.

For “achievement week,” they held a handful of activities. They had a dance collaboration with another campus group, AfroRoyale, to raise awareness for diabetes. They held a charity basketball game to raise money for a children’s hospital. (Hunte and one of his frat brothers went head-to-head as coaches, and Hunte’s team lost by three points.) They hosted a self defense seminar to arm women against sexual assault and had Purdue University Police officer Andy Standifer, a former football player, speak about tips to stay safe on campus. They led a canned food drive.

“Being an Omega man for me, in my eyes, just means you’re an outstanding leader in the community,” Knox said. “When we look at it, we just want to be outstanding men in the community that people look up to and help to change the problems and the roadblocks around the community. We just want to be guys who can help other people reach limits that they never thought they could.”

Knox said Omega stands on four principles: Manhood, scholarship, perseverance and uplift.

They’re taken seriously.

Knox actually wears a purple cut-off T-shirt with the Omega Psi Phi shield under his pads during games. He said it helps him always remember those principles, helps him attack any on-field adversity that may arise.

Clearly, the organization is always near the surface: After Knox’s first touchdown this season, he celebrated by bending those elbows, pointing those hands. He’d promised his Omega brothers he’d strike the pose when he scored, and he did.

And when he did, he knows other people, even on the opponent sidelines, could identify.

After one game this season, Knox posed for a photo with Minnesota linebacker Jon Celestin, a fellow Omega Man.

“No matter where you go, you’re always going to meet an Omega Man,” Knox said.

Having a group of them living in the same house has helped, too.

The “brothers” are a constant reminder to live up to the standards set by the organization, those principles that mean so much. Knox and Hunte see them personified in that house, in each other.

“You can’t be a part of this fraternity if you’re not a man, if you’re not serious about your studies, if you’re not persevering through adversity and if you’re not uplifting people and just trying to make people better in general. That’s what we’re all about,” Hunte said. “It helped me become a better man.”

Knox said he considers his brothers almost like role models, even though they’re the same age. Phillips and Hunte already have graduated from Purdue, as have some of the other line brothers. Anthony Douglas II is in med school already, and Emeka Andrews will be heading to med school next summer. Tim Fields Jr., a junior who plays football at Wabash, also is a line brother.

The entire group has been a consistent system of support.

“When you surround yourself around guys like that, you kind of take on the same persona as them,” Knox said. “Everybody is working to get better. I feel like they’ve done a great job of keeping me motivated throughout the season. Whenever I went through tough times, they were there. When I was up, they were there to celebrate. When I was low, they were there to help me out. So it helped me to being a better man, especially going through the process of joining a fraternity and making sure I left time to study for the fraternity, that I left time to study for class and get treatment, go to practice, it kind of taught me how to balance everything.

“Of course, I ran into problems and roadblocks along the road, but that’s what it was all about. It taught me how to be a man and how to face my troubles. Running from it will not make it go away. You just simply have to put your best foot forward, face the problem and give it everything you have.”

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