This is an occasional AJC Sepia series that looks at black Greek letter organizations
I’ve gotten to the age when I periodically receive those calls or texts with unexpected sad news.
It is the wake-up call when you hear a high school or college classmate has died and you realize that you’re not as young as you think. More often though it is news of a relative or some beloved teacher. I received one of the messages recently.
“Did you hear? Bro. Nunnally died.”
Bro. Nunnally was none other than the Rev. David H. Nunnally of Athens.
I met him early in 1986 as I attended the interest meeting for Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity at the University of Georgia. Rev. Nunnally was introduced as the chapter’s advisor. Medium build with a pleasant demeanor, he was definitely an old school type of dude. Once I was selected to pledge, I ended up beginning a relationship with a man that lasted almost 30 years.
Yes, he was the guide for our chapter. But reflecting on this Founder’s Day, not only did Bro. Nunnally teach me what it meant to be an Alpha, but he also unknowingly taught and reinforced values that would make me a good husband, father, and college president (which de facto is father for hundreds of students).
In the spring of 1986, my line brothers and I spent time with Bro. Nunnally and his family on numerous occasions.
Hazing? You don’t know what hazing is unless you have spent hours at the Nunnallys’ peeling potatoes and hearing all of his old stories. Watching the way he and his wife bantered back and forth definitely made an impact on me. I see it in the way I interact with my wife at times.
Bro. Nunnally always had these crazy ideas for events. He wrote plays for high school students, started new organizations, you name it.
This rubbed off on our chapter unknowingly as we decided to create a unique annual event, a pajama party that launched in 1986. His energy rubbed off as we always found new ways to advertise and market our events. As a college president, I have been able to develop unique lecture series (“Bless the Mic” at Philander Smith, and “Brain Food” at Dillard), with that same creativity that we held events on our campus.
I think to this day our chapter is the only undergraduate chapter to ever win national brother of the year back to back. In fact we almost pulled a trifecta - but I lost at the national level.
But Bro. Nunnally not only ensured that we were involved in the community in meaningful ways so that we were strong candidates, he showed us how to make good first impressions.
Our displays were the result of his steady guidance, and definitely in my role as a university president I am aware of being able to not only provide strong written presentations, but speaking in front of people.
Like an eagle pushing their offspring out to force them to fly, Bro. Nunnally did the same. While competing for regional brother of the year, some alumni brothers from Atlanta approached me and suggested (no, told me) I was going to run for regional assistant vice president, essentially the undergraduate member on the board for the largest region in the fraternity.
They gave two brothers in my chapter money to make flyers, our instincts for marketing kicked in, and I was elected.
That event placed me in proximity with one Dr. Walter Washington, then president of Alcorn State University, and former general president of Alpha Phi Alpha. Being at board meetings with him, I was able to ask him what I should do to become a college president. He gave me a simple suggestion which has now resulted in 11 years as a president.
And when I was first named president of Philander Smith in 2004, Bro. Nunnally wrote to congratulate me- he was extremely proud.
Finally, Bro. Nunnally showed us what was important and that he cared about us, and the entire fraternity. At one of our meetings we reviewed the quarterly GPA report. For the previous quarter, our collective chapter GPA was right near the bottom (we may have even been at the bottom but my recollection has slowly faded away).
Bro. Nunnally went in on us for the grades, and all of the sudden, cried out that he has never seen the fraternity at the bottom like that and ran out of the meeting. Our chapter president at the time told someone to go get him, but it shook us. Not only did we know we had to do better for ourselves and our families, but for our brother and the fraternity.
While I have not seen him in years, he and his wife always got our Christmas cards, and he would occasionally respond. I knew his health was failing, but I was still saddened to learn of his passing.
I could not be there for the services, and learned from my mom that his wife wanted to make sure I knew. So I called her. Immediately I imagined myself in that kitchen peeling potatoes, or as a dean of pledges having my line peel potatoes!
I have been influenced by many Alpha men, starting with my father, and continuing today with a large number of Alpha men who serve as college presidents. But on this Founder’s Day, I remember a man I met almost 30 years ago in Athens, Georgia, who played a significant role in my development during my college days.
Thank you, Brother Nunnally.
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