Written by Jessica Deese and photo by Stephen Savage
As a child reared by hippy-ish parents of humble origins that love socializing with people, but aren’t club joiners, I wasn’t born into a sorority or fraternity family legacy. There wasn’t a Greek system at my alma mater, so I missed out on a direct connection myself during my undergraduate years. From my admittedly limited vantage point, I generally viewed them as serving social needs, more so than charitable ones. Turns out, when it comes to Kappa Alpha Psi, my personal perception proved wrong.
Formed in 1911 at Indiana University Bloomington, Kappa Alpha Psi is the only African-American fraternity to have been formed on a predominantly white campus. Excluded from the campus experiences of their white counterparts, these students were intent on creating a legacy of opportunity and achievement for themselves and their brothers.
At the age of 12, Abdoul Sanogo emigrated from the Ivory Coast to suburban Atlanta. Not long after, he was placed in foster care after receiving a physically abusive punishment from his father. Although well cared for in his new living situation, he erected a self-protective façade that prevented him from developing a sense of belonging in his school and home environments.
Despite his difficulties, Abdoul shared that “God put some key people in my life. … My high school had a mentoring program, and one day this man pulled me out of chemistry and said, ‘I see a lot of potential in you. We need to put you on the right path.’ “
He asked to be Abdoul’s mentor and although he did not know it at the time, this man was also an alumnus of Kappa Alpha Psi. “He showed a genuine interest in me and helped me aspire to be something and do something for others.”
Abdoul went on to college and became a member of Kappa Alpha Psi himself. As an active brother, the sense of belonging that had previously eluded him was now his. He internalized the core principles of aspiration and community as he studied.
Life happily progressed. Abdoul married his college sweetheart, earned a master’s degree, and in the fall of 2006 moved to Daphne to teach.
It was not that coincidental that Abdoul’s mentor was a Kappa Alpha Psi alumnus. Mentoring high school students quickly became a fraternity focus early on. Just over a decade after its birth, the fraternity established a Guide Right program designed to help African-American seniors with vocational guidance, college counseling, and scholarships.
In 1969, the Los Angeles alumni chapter took it a step further by developing an intentional mentoring model for young men in the sixth through twelfth grades. Formally adopted at the national level shortly thereafter, it’s called the Kappa League and operates under fraternity alumni chapters nationwide.
Although busy with family and professional pursuits, Abdoul was intent on establishing a local Kappa League for the young men in our county. “It takes a collective effort to raise a child. I’m a byproduct of mentoring and believe it’s our lifeblood. … Kappa League helps create a legacy for the future.”
In 2015, the time was ripe. Wanting to partner with the public school system, Abdoul found an ally in fellow Kappa alumus, co-worker, and friend, Anthony Sampson. Abdoul moved to a new position working in the school system with Anthony in the Prevention and Support/ College and Career Readiness Department.
Now in a professional role aligned with the mission of the Kappa League, and a colleague familiar with the program, Abdoul knew it was time to officially ask for school support and launch this endeavor. He got it. What happened since then is quite remarkable.
Abdoul fully embodies the values he instills in the group he shepherds. He prods them along for their own benefit, while constantly reminding them that they are called to give back to those behind them. It’s not just about getting into the right school or right job, but as his mentor once told him, finding the right path and preparing for a lifetime of honorable achievement and service.
With a mission to provide its members (representing five of the county high schools) with, “the needed tools to become future leaders of their communities, as well as better global citizens,” their calendar is filled with activities aimed to both inspire and instruct.
Before Kappa League’s inception, less than 1 percent of African-American boys in the Baldwin County Public Schools system made the benchmark ACT test score of 18. Happily, Kappa League has improved that. Each graduating member met or exceeded that score and enrolled in college. This is not by accident. College test prep courses, tutoring sessions, informational workshops, good old- fashioned accountability, and positive peer pressure help these boys aim high and follow through.
On some weekends, the group tours colleges. Now they often see Kappa League alumni on various campuses; linking them to the reality they are hoping to carve for themselves in a powerful and direct way.
Community service is emphasized just as much as academics. Members can be found at local youth centers, tutoring and mentoring others. They are also regular volunteers at Prodisee Pantry, the Chili Cook Off, and school fundraisers, just to name a few. If Abdoul gets a request for the guys to help, he accepts.
Cultural events are an important program component. Mobile Ballet’s The Nutcracker is an annual highlight, and in February they went on a pilgrimage to Selma to celebrate Black History Month. Current member Ashton Donald remarked that being “able to sit down with some of the unspoken heroes of the Civil Rights movement” was especially incredible, although he certainly had fun on the more lighthearted experiences like the Pelicans basketball game or recent paintball battle.
Everything is done in a relational, collaborative, and fluid context between the boys, adult fraternity mentors, and Parent Advisory Board. mom Gia Wiggins shared that, “It’s a major time commitment and group opportunity where everyone is contributing and pouring into one another.”
She went on to express her gratitude for Abdoul. “He takes his relationships as a badge of honor and he never lets them down. … I can’t believe he’s even real. … At least once a month Abdoul checks in to get my input on what we might need. To give one example, we saw that the kids lacked confidence interacting with the adults in the various settings we placed them in. Next thing we knew, he enrolled them all in Toastmasters!”
Another parent, Meesha Donald, saw the direct impact of this when the boys participated in the Ecumenical Ministries 50th Anniversary Gala. “Of all the wonderful things this group does, seeing the boys mingling and conversing with Mayor Haygood and other individuals in a space they traditionally would not be a part of was my personal favorite.”
The success of the Daphne Kappa League has not gone unnoticed. In 2018, Abdoul was named Volunteer of the Year by the United Way of Baldwin County. In 2019, at the annual Kappa Alpha Psi national meeting, they walked away with multiple distinctions, winning first place regionally and third place nationally in the Guide Right Program recognition ceremony. Abdoul was named the regional and national Best Guide Right Director, and one of their members received the Southern Province Student of The Year distinction.
It’s only been five years. What an incredible example of brotherhood at its best: helping young men reach their dreams and impact their communities. That’s a legacy that even my parents would approve of!
Visit daphnekappaleague.org to learn more about their programs, membership and support opportunities.