George H. Grace Biography
Learned from Early Examples, Admired Omega Psi Phi Brotherhood, Focused on Empowerment and the Vote
Grand Basileus, Omega Psi Phi; corporate executive
Having learned hard work and teamwork as a young man, George H. Grace, Grand Basileus (or chief executive) of the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, understands well what a brotherhood of African Americans can accomplish. "To succeed you need a team," Grace told Contemporary Black Biography (CBB), "with everyone committed to the same objectives." Likewise the men of Omega Psi Phi live and work by four shared principles: manhood, scholarship, perseverance, and uplift, and with an organization of 200,000 initiates these men do succeed. Grace counts many great African Americans among his membership, men like Michael Jordan, Bill Cosby, Count Basie, Carter G. Woodson, and many others. Known for their activism and their excellence, some members enjoy world recognition and are viewed with pride and admiration by the black community.
This black fraternity was founded in 1911, on the Washington, D.C., campus of Howard University, and today has 762 chapters located on college campuses throughout the United States, in Japan, Korea, Germany, the Virgin Islands, and the Bahamas. Local Omega Psi Phi chapters have donated thousands of dollars over the years to organizations like the NAACP, the Urban League, and the Negro College Fund, and members have rolled up their sleeves for Habitat for Humanity in an effort to provide decent housing to families in need. In addition, the organization gives year awards to members for scholarships. Grace and the brotherhood are a team working together to build a better life for minorities and to serve as a source of guidance for young African Americans.
Learned from Early Examples
George H. Grace was born on May 20, 1948, in Bartow, Florida, to Lillie Mae and DeeCee Grace. Grace was raised with four brothers and a cousin; they all learned life skills at an early age. Their father and grandfather taught them never to fear hard work. "They said I could achieve anything if I worked hard enough," Grace told CBB. "My father worked two jobs for 30 years without taking a day off until he broke his arm. He returned to work the following day." Grace learned many handy skills, such as electrical work and plumbing. "My first regular job was at a plant nursery and later I worked on a cattle ranch. I was only eight years old," he said.
Later, at Union Academy High School, his teachers reinforced these lessons and left a lasting impression on Grace. "I admired my junior high school principal, James Stephens," said Grace. "He ran a tight ship and had complete control of the school. He was like Jesus walking on the Red Sea. The hallways would part when he walked through them. Forrest McKinney and Jordan J. Corbett were coaches who instilled in me the importance of education and athletics. Corbett was a great motivator and taught you to never give up."
Grace entered Tuskegee University in 1967 with the idea of later becoming a commissioned officer in the military. Having entered school on a football scholarship, he also considered becoming a professional athlete. At Tuskegee his hard work paid off on the football field. As captain from 1967 to 1970, Tuskegee's team lost only six games in four years. Following his graduation Grace decided against both the military and sports, and in 1972 began work as a production supervisor for General Motors in Pontiac, Michigan.
Admired Omega Psi Phi Brotherhood
Grace joined the Omega Psi Phi fraternity in 1973 when he began graduate school at the University of Miami. He admired a neighbor and fraternity bother, Dr. Herbert Green, who seemed to take pride in helping in the community. After researching the work of fraternity brothers like Rev. Jesse Jackson, Benjamin Hooks of the NAACP, and Vernon Jordan of the Urban League, Grace wanted to get more involved; a few years later he took his first position as an officer at the local chapter of Omega Psi Phi. There he sat on every committee and moved readily from Chapter Basileus into district and state offices.
Grace became Grand Keeper of Records and Seals in 1998 and was then elected Grand Basileus of Omega Psi Phi in 2002. "I never sought to be an officer," he told CBB. "It was a course of events and I was in the right place at the right time." But he added: "I was asked because of my track record." Grace believes his ability to surround himself with accomplished supporters has been central to his success. "They wanted the same things that I wanted and the record showed that."
Offering a glimpse of life in an all male fraternity, Grace remarked: "It's hard work and it can be very political. It's that way because there are so many members and no set path for anyone to follow."
Focused on Empowerment and the Vote
As Grand Basileus, Grace has focused on changing the economic plight of minorities in America through better education, greater involvement in the political process, and early training in economics and money management. "We blame others for our own shortcomings," Grace explained to CBB. "We can change a lot of things ourselves; no one is going to do it for us."
With Grace's vision the fraternity adopted as its theme: Economic Empowerment, Leading to Social and Political Change. "I believe the way to economic empowerment is to look at how you spend your dollar, where you spend it, and what you are spending it for; we can make a difference if we use our buying power in a different way."
Teaching underprivileged kids about home ownership and credit is a key component of this initiative. Each year the fraternity holds a Youth Economic Summit in Washington, D.C., offering seminars on topics like first-time home purchasing and managing credit. "We need to talk about these things before it's too late, to make sure African-American youth never get credit problems," Grace says. "Home ownership is a key to success. Our members take this message to the community. We go into high schools, and it has paid off. The kids learn about buying habits and investing; then they take it home to the parents. Not everything is found in a book. It's about being exposed to people like our fraternity members." Through these seminars young African Americans are able to hear brothers like Earl Graves, Sr., president and CEO of Black Enterprise, share his expertise in creating wealth and controlling one's own destiny.
In this effort to empower minorities, which included a big push by black fraternities and sororities to register 1.5 million unregistered and uncommitted voters for the 2004 U.S. presidential election, Grace said: "We've got to get out and vote. To the victor goes the spoils; that's how this country works." Omega Psi Phi members are reaching out to urge citizens to vote and advise them on their rights as voters, including offering transportation to ensure that anyone who wants to get to the polls can.
Positioned for the Future
Grace has guided the organization through its purchase of the first black fraternity house at the University of South Carolina and has led discussions with Hilton Hotels for the construction of the first black conference center and resort in the United States. Located in Zenia, Ohio, near Wilberforce and Central States College, two of the oldest historically black colleges in the country, this 59-acre parcel of landmark property is the former homestead of Colonel Charles Young, one of the nation's first black military officers.
In 2004 Grace was re-elected to his position as Grand Basileus and began the Undergraduate Economic Summit initiative with the Minority Business Office of the Department of Commerce, whose director is a fraternity member. The plan is to spread their lessons in money management into historically black college campuses.
In addition to his many duties at Omega Psi Phi, Grace is employed by BellSouth and has earned several executive promotions since starting there as a management trainee in 1974. As regional manager he is responsible for phone service for all city government municipalities in Palm Beach, Dade, Broward, and Monroe counties, and for several of their emergency 911 systems. Considering conventional images of employment in this sunny locale we could view his work there as a day at the beach. Grace disagrees. "It's not a vacation," he told CBB. "It's a lot of hard work."
Miami Times, September 2, 2003, p. 1.
Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Incorporated, www.oppf.org (October 15, 2004).
Additional information for this profile was obtained through an interview with George H. Grace on October 1, 2004.
—Sharon Melson Fletcher
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