A Conversation with Anson Award Winner, Rasheed Ali Cromwell

by Dr. Rafael Matos

Dr. Rafael Matos: All right. Welcome everyone. This month, the AFA Perspectives issue focuses on recognition and this month chatting with me is someone that I look up to in this industry and in life in general, the good brother Rasheed Ali Cromwell, who was recently recognized as the Jack L. Anson Award recipient for 2023. So Rasheed, man, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself.

Rasheed Ali Cromwell: Yes, sir, Doctor Matos, I appreciate you having me. I’m super excited. I’ve enjoyed working with you throughout the years on a number of different projects, and keeping engaged, and always good to see you and hear from me. So thank you for this opportunity. A little bit about myself. I grew up in Havre De Grace, Maryland, which is Harford County/Baltimore area. I went to undergrad at North Carolina A&T. Part of the reason I attended A&T in Greensboro is because I had a passion for engineering. A&T back then, and still does graduate the most black engineers out of any historically black college or university, HBCU, in the country. And so it’s the largest out of all 100 plus and still holds that honor. So I’m proud of that. That drew me to Carolina to actually work there. I graduated with an undergrad in Chem E. I went back home for a year, worked at a generic pharmaceutical in Baltimore, and then went to law school in Texas. Stayed there for about 4 years. Graduated from Texas Southern, and then clerked for a Federal judge in Houston, who actually, Raf, is the longest sitting Federal judge in the Southern District. He’s been on the bench, he still is, for the last 30 years and so I had that opportunity to work with him which was an awesome experience. And then went back to DC. And did the big law firm thing for a while. And so that’s a little bit about my journey, my perspective. I practiced intellectual property law, which is patents, copyrights, and trademarks, and that’s kind of my background, as it relates to a little bit about who I am and how I got here.

DRM: Thank you very much for sharing, and to our listeners out there, let me tell you something: Aggie Pride is real!

ALC: (Laughing) Yes, sir. Yes, sir. Aggie Pride! Aggie born Aggie bred. 

DRM: It is real, let me tell you, but I love seeing that Aggie Pride on display. 

RAC: Absolutely. 

DRM: So you were doing big corporate law. But then you had a switch – seems to me you had a switch and you work in the fraternity sorority industry. You made that switch – Why did you make the switch? And why are you so passionate about working in the fraternity/sorority industry?

RAC: That’s a good question. I get that question oftentimes, Raf. What ended up happening when I was at A&T, I was very involved in student activities/student life. That’s where I joined my fraternity. Omega Psi Phi, Mu Psi Chapter at A&T. But going into A&T and and one of the things, Raf, I was very passionate about was education. I’m actually a fourth generation HBCU grad. My father graduated from University of Maryland, Eastern Shore, which back then was Maryland State Teachers College. My grandfather graduated from Bowie State University, which back then was Bowie Normal School, and my great-grandfather graduated from Bowie State, which again was Bowie Normal School. And so they were all educators, Raf. They were principals. My father was an educator in the Baltimore City and New York City public school systems for over 25 years. And so I was raised in a family of educators. My house is actually across the street, from where I grew up, from a historic landmark which was very instrumental in educated African Americans in my area. The Havre De Grace Color School. And so that’s what I was inundated with. And what happened was when I got to A and T. You know, I had a passion for black history, a passion for culture, for history. And so I started researching black Greek letter organizations specifically. And you are. Laugh back then. You know, it was old school. You had to go to library and look stuff up, and they used to have this book called Beard Manual of College Fraternities and Sororities. And it’s basically like a dictionary of every fraternity and sorority that ever existed Greek and not. And lo and behold! You had Hbcu!  Everyone’s interested in what? The not organization. So guess what pages were missing from from the beards available. Every one of the deny organizations have been ripped out for an out. And so, yeah, I was already passionate about education. And so you know, we had to. We had to seek knowledge we had to learn. And so I already went in, the Auntie having a very Afrocentric perspective from the way I was raised, you know, with my father in education. And I actually started really doing a lot of research. And what was funny is back then. There was a young man that had just started at Albany State University and student activities name Walter Kimbrough. And I would I would email him questions, what you think about this if you think about that. And of course, as many people know, he later came out with black Greek, 101, we started relationship. But I had started speaking at colleges when I was in college. Ross. About these organizations. And what happened was, I kept doing it, kept researching and you know, by the time Divine 9 had come out with Lawrence Ross, probably about the early 2,000. What was happening at the same time is d. 9 org were facing a lot of high profile, hazing incidents. and that was wasn’t the first time we were dealing with that raft. But it was, you know, kind of starting to hit a a a high point. And so I started getting calls from people, from colleges or universities that remembered me speaking even as a student. And and they they would say, Hey, man, can you come, talk to our students about this?  Make sure you’re safe. And and so I would talk about it from both a cultural and risk management standpoint. And one thing led to another. I would remember, Ralph. I would I would go to conferences, even though I didn’t have a higher Ed background. I was going to conferences like a nasap, which is student professionals for hbcus and you know, White House initiative for hbcus and just going to different conferences. Speaking. And, man, II got back to the office one day, Raff and I was. You know. I said, man, I don’t feel the same way I feel when I’m speaking about this working in law and in in corporate law like I was doing. You know, I just felt the disconnect.

RAC: And I said, Man, I wanna feel like like this all the time. And I remember having a conversation with my dad about that, you know. Like yo, I’m I’m really thinking about this. I really wasn’t sure where it was. Gonna go, Raf, but I just knew what I felt. And then, when I really thought about it, though the main reason I went to law school was one I wanted to be financially independent. 2. I love to speak. 3. I love to write. And I realized I wasn’t doing any of those things at the firm, and the firm was the best job I’d ever had. Rap, I was most money I made, you know, downtown DC. Corner office type flow. I mean it was. It was great. But you know you ask yourself after a while, you know, what is this all mean? But I could start to feel it. And, man, when I got that feeling I just kind of followed it. And I transition. And years later, you know, I hadn’t looked back and that’s kinda how I got into it. And it started opening the door for so many different opportunities. And that was actually one of the ways I got to AFA was Dr. Kimbrough told me I should go to this conference, and and I ha! I didn’t have a higher Ed background, he said, go to this conference. I want you to go talk to these people, and I had no idea where I was going. When I was doing anything. I just felt like such a fish out of water. But I think a lot of times when we think about diversity, we think of it. You know, in a race ethnicity context, or a gender identity or sexual orientation. But we don’t think cognitive diversity a lot. We don’t think about people from different professions that think about things in different ways. And I think that’s one of the things that’s made me successful in this industry is. You know, I don’t have a higher Ed background, and that’s much respect to everyone that’s put in that work in that area. But my! My background is math and science. My background is engineering, my background is law. And so I look at things differently. I ask questions that people probably normally don’t ask and that it’s given me the opportunity, I think, to be able to address issues in ways that others may not

DRM: Well thank you so much for sharing that. Listen to our listeners out there. If you haven’t seen Rasheed talk, do his programs. You’re missing quite a spectacle, I mean, he goes in. And he is it? It is obvious that he has spent time with the content? He elaborates on the very eloquently. He brings the terms, you know you do. You have. You do such a great job in terms of taking the concept and making it easy for us to understand right? Like you don’t dumb it down. By no means. You actually, you actually say, in a way that’s engaging and that we can get it, understand? And I really appreciate you doing that. I’m glad that I’ve got to see you do some of your programs cause even when I go this you hit on different angles I hadn’t really thought about. And I’ll say that also. Say that when you talk about like that passion you have. I see it when you’re presenting like I can put into work. And I think that that’s that speaks values my brother. So I really appreciate that what you doing out there, because somebody has to be able to tell our story. And you know, share that with the up and coming generations. So you know you’re being honored this year with the Jack L. Anson award. That’s an AFA award that is presented to an individual who who doesn’t work at a institution higher education, and who has demonstrated a commitment to the fraternity sorority community beyond your respective organization, right and just so, y’all know, like not not only has Rasheed shown commitment beyond Omega Psi Phi, I mean, he has shown commitment to the fraternal movement beyond. and like he really is an advocate for the culture based fraternity, since that is really important. So I appreciate you being a champion. So tell us, what does that honor mean to you like? How do you feel about being recognized for your work with the Jack L Anson award?

RAC: It means a lot, Raf, I mean. I was so humbled when I got the call, and I’m laughing because I was in a meeting, and I didn’t recognize I didn’t realize what was going on. I was meeting with a client, with a campus and someone from AFA came on, and they were, and I was like, am I not right? Meeting like it was so zoom I was like, did I? Did I log in, you know, cause it, you know, gets hectic, and they have surprised me and shared it with me, but it meant so much, because I think so many people in this industry do so much that goes unnoticed that goes that gets overlooked. That just doesn’t get the credit that they deserve. And I’m not talking about me. I’m talking about the campus-based professionals, right, the volunteers, the chapter advisors, the students, the grad students, the regional national leadership that work with these organizations to support staff that work with these organizations that just, you know no one really sees what they do and how they hold this together. So to be recognized by your colleagues by your peers. It just means so much to me, and I’m really appreciative of that. Because, you know, sometimes you just you. You go Raf, and you know you, you’ve been in this for a while. You give so much to other people and sometimes you don’t really know if it impacts. I mean you. You hope it impacts them right. But especially students. When you’re speaking, when you’re training a lot of times, it’s these finite relationships, you know it might be the short amount of time that you’re presenting, or it might be a training for half a day, a part of a day. You might see them again. But you just never really know what you say or what you do, and how it sits with them. Unless you’re fortunate enough to hear from them later, and sometimes I do. But in this way. This is, I think, an example of that, Raf, where it’s like, you know, hearing from people that you’ve connected with important to over the years to show that it’s being reciprocated. So I’m really honored by that and look forward to join in the AFA fam to celebrate that. For this.

DRM: Well, well, thanks for sharing now. We’re so excited you’re being recognized. But one of the things that you do very well. I mean again, through your programming to your interactions. You’re good about celebrating others. So how do you create opportunities? How do you do it? Right? How do you create opportunities in your work to celebrate individuals and communities? And then I would say. What would you recommend to others to be able to do that in their own work, create opportunities to celebrate individuals and communities?

RAC: Well, 2 ways. Raf, thanks for that question. One way is cross culturally, in our communities. You, you know, you mentioned this thing called culturally based fraternal organizations, not just Nphc predominantly black fraternities and authorities, but NAPA Asian interest, NALFO Latinx, NMGC multicultural indigenous brothers and sisters that we’ve worked with through law. I’ve had the honor of of creating with Stevie Tran and Nathan Arrowsmith a subscription service where we’re able to support smaller CBFOs who cannot afford legal services. At the rates that big law firms are offering. And so through that we started this right around Covid wraps. We’ve been able to support over a dozen different culturally based fraternal orgs – NAPA, NMGC, and NALFO, and we’re super proud of that, we’re super proud of that, because one, the demographics based on the US Census data already show by 2050, for the first time in the history of the United States, this is gonna be a majority citizenship of color. And so what that means is relative to higher education. The correlation, of course, is going to be consistent with more students of color, which then means our fraternal organizations are going to be larger, you know not. But now far, actually, the fastest growing organizations that they are. But you know, being a member of an NPHC organization just like yourself. You know, most of us have been around a hundred years plus. And so you see many of these CBFOs at about the 2030 year mark of growth. You know, some are just now getting their first, ED. Some are going through growing pains, you know, as it relates to expansion. And and you know, as we change in our society, that those challenges become, you know, much more complex, especially as it relates to risk management and litigation investigations, those type things so just being able to support them, you know, not not charging a lot, just just making sure that they’re covered. It’s something we’re very proud of, and shout out to Stevie and Nathan for their vision and allowing me to be a part of that. That’s one way we celebrate organizations and then individuals. The second part, Raf, is our next term program, which I’m super proud of. Your frat brother Joshua Thurman, proud member. Phi Beta Sigma University of Michigan Alum – Go Blue. You know we’ve been working together the last 3 years through harbor. And he set up this program for young students to be a part of this is, I think I believe our sixth or seventh cohort, Raf. But we’re proud of it. One because we’ve been able to – We have 2 students now that are in grad school in Higher Ed. Because we were able to work with them as undergrad. You know, one is a NAPA member, one is an LTA. And being able to see their evolution and growth. You know we talk about diversifying the field. But you have to think about well, what are we doing to set up systems and mechanisms, institutions to be able to build these pipelines? And so we feel like, you know, this is kind of a step in the right direction to do that. And so every year the last few years we’ve been very intentional and not just supporting our next terms. Which are virtual internships, multi-disciplinary for a 12 week program while they’re in school, no matter where they are. In the country, working with them through that developmental program is based on nice competencies. So they’re prepared professionally when they leave whatever profession they enter into. But to be able to couple that with things like making sure that we sponsor one student to go to Afa every year from a different Cvf. O. Council has really been something I’ve been proud of. Again. Shout out to Josh for setting that up, chief, who’s our next term manager for running that program? Because, you know, that’s about celebrating individuals and that’s our future. And we have to make sure that we’re intentional and setting that up. And that. And that’s one way that we do it. You know, you talk about legacy. That’s what this is about. It’s about building our organizations and structures for the future. To them, be able to not only sustain it, but support. Who’s gonna be in it?

DRM: But that’s really powerful. You know what I like about what you just said. It’s not just about recognizing somebody once they make it, but really recognizing somebody for having the potential to make opportunities. That’s deep. That’s powerful. So now, going back to that second question, Ray. How could I do that? What would you recommend to me if I’m sitting here thinking, boy, how do I make this happen? How do I recognize others in my work?

RAC: I think, Raf, at the end of the day is just focusing, saying, Man, what do I have? What can I offer? I think we live in a society now, that’s you know, through social media, through cancel culture. It’s so. It’s so easy to focus on what you don’t have. Oh, I don’t have this people posting this, and they flash, and all that you know. Just concentrate what you do have. What? What can you offer? You have something right, and it doesn’t have to be large. The other thing is, I think, a lot of times we think financial, you know. You see, people giving these large gifts. And oh, I need to give that, and you know, if you can do that cool. But if you can’t, what can you give other than finance? You know the most valuable commodity? Raf is time. You know, money, you can get back time, you can’t. And so once you concentrate on, this is what I have, and that’s what we did right, especially through Covid Covid forces everybody to stop and just kind of reassess and say, Okay, what’s happening in front of me? Wha, what’s going on? Right, and you start thinking alright. This is what I can offer. You know I’m an attorney. You know I have a passion for culture, for sustainability. How can I find people in this space that I can connect with? And we can offer this to others? You know, we work with students. Raf, all the time, and I would get so frustrated because, you know, we were talking earlier about you know you teaching, which is awesome. You know I again I come from a background of educators. That’s why I’m passionate about education. I just, you know it’s not feasible for me to teach in my in my schedule. And so how else can I stay connected to students beyond just a one and done program? And that’s when we started reinvisioning the the next term program. And so my answer to the question is, concentrate on what you have one and then 2. Slowly but surely. Build, little at a time. You know those things sound big that I just said. But they started very small. Actually, Stevie, Nathan and I met at Asa and in Anaheim rash again. You know you talk about what you have. We’re at the annual meeting. What are you doing at the annual meeting? Besides hanging out with people you already know, with people that you went to grad school with. That’s cool. But what other opportunities are you leaving on the table? You know, when Dr. Kimbrough first told me to go to AFA. That’s how I was oriented, Raf. II was oriented to go in a way that builds partnerships across the board, not just internal in your counsel. The first person I met was Dr. Charles Eberly, from IFC. And I sat down with him and work through things as it relates to different initiatives that we were thinking about. So again, you know, just utilizing your resources. Something as simple as the annual meeting. That’s where we all convene. But are you meeting people you don’t know? Are you taking meetings to be able to learn something you don’t know, and that’s how I go to each AFA. Even now I go to either at least one session or set up meetings with people I do not know, to explore those possibilities, because that’s what that partnership and reaching and building in our community is all about.

DRM: Incredible, incredible man. Thank you so much for sharing. Now, you know, when I think of you. I have to compare you to one of my favorite Mega myth, you already know, one must say, and if you don’t, is the go of them all. Michael Jordan. Yeah, you know, that’s my favorite basketball player, you know. Reason why I compare you to, because, you know, II feel when I watch, like I’m in all of you because of what you do. How you do with the level of knowledge. You know is I respect it tremendously, you know, so I view you as like having reached this pinnacle way before the awards right, so to me like one – How do you keep yourself challenged? And then what is gonna be next for you? Now, now that you’re at this point, and I’m not necessarily talk about that. You’ve got the recognition. But talk about all the things that you’ve done. You know you. You’re now. You’re not in your in your greatness era, your second greatness. What is next for you?

RAC: Well, I appreciate that, MJ reference, boy. I don’t know, Raf, for that. That’s right. There, boy, that’s my favorite player as well, and that just means a lot. But I think for me. you know, when I think about what challenges me. One thing you know, and I know you notice about Jordan. That study Jordan is is his level of preparation and discipline. You know Kobe got that from him, you know. You see, Lebron model that after them, which is, you know, I’m in the gym at 7 o’clock in the morning, not getting to the gym like I’m already there, and what I mean by that is, you know, intellectually. You know. Do I know all the councils like, I know my own council. Can I name all the organizations like I can name my organization? Do I know the history? You know that in a way, I feel like if I’m gonna represent them as their legal counsel. I owe that to them, Raf. And so I wanna I wanna, I wanna be as comfortable and competent in that way. And that’s what challenges me is to be the best to make sure that I support and serve everyone equitably, and the only way to do that is to know them like I know myself. And so that’s what challenges me. You know, being able to know that there are 10 NMGC. Or, you know, 8 fraternities, 2 sororities being able to list them the same way. I can list my NPHC organizations that that that to me is is the best expression of of, you know, being able to continue to evolve, and not being complacent. As far as what’s next, man. I’m super excited about this. You know. We’re getting ready for our book next year, 2024. It’ll be around this time next year hopefully around National Hazard Prevention week. It’s called Discretion. It’s about pledging, intake and hazing, and it’s a compilation of things that and experiences I’ve worked with and people I’ve worked with over the past. We’re super excited about that. And then in 2025, I mentioned Joshua Thurman, we’re working together on another book for students of color. They’re not just fraternities and sororities, across the board about student success, cultural competency, time, energy, stress management, you know, it’s something different, Raf, to say, oh, you gotta manage your time. But you know, do you know what it’s like to be a first generation student of color? Do you know what it’s like to have family pressure where sometimes you’re still paying the bills for your family in college. Do you know what it’s like? You know, we really serving them and supporting them with resources and tools and skill sets is something that’s important to us. And so that’s another project that we’re working on. And that’ll be out in ‘25. And and I know that sounds like a long way away, brother, but I’m telling you 2023 went by so fast it’s about to be 2024 right now. So it sounds a long way away, but is definitely on the horizon. So we’re super excited about those projects. And and really looking forward to that next evolution

DRM: That’s really exciting man, and I can’t wait to see him. Man. 2 things, One. I don’t want this to go unnoticed. Because early in the conversation Rasheed talked about CBFOs, and he didn’t say MGC. He actually listed the councils right, but it wasn’t just. He listed the councils. He also talked about our native American brothers and sisters right? And that’s what that’s what impresses me about Rasheed. There’s just that something that may seem so subtle when you talk about, recognize and help them feel people feel included in value. That’s a small example to me that goes a long way because it may have gone. Well, it didn’t go over my head, but it could have, because I’m NPHC. And I’m always part of the conversation in most capacities, right? So I really wanna highlight that and cause I don’t want that point to get missed as did. That’s exactly what you’re talking about. And I appreciate you doing that. The other part right? It’s interesting. You know, you talked about. Yeah, we want to tell first generation students or students of color rightly be successful. But recognizing that there are other factors at play that can impact even the most prepared student, right? I remember, I went to a session. You did, and I think it might have been AFLV Central, and I think it was actually was AFA cause I was working for Sigma Lambda Gamma at the time. And you talked about how we’re like Latina based sororities. Sometimes you have that the Latino culture that can impact the way the members experience right? Umhm, and that was very profound for me, because it was really you. You really took the organization and not just situated in terms of a fraternal culture, but the other culture that influences patterns of behavior and and and things that I really hadn’t thought about and consider. So again, like. I have to mention that because what you’re talking about like, like I seen you do this. So it’s not just you just saying it like you’re actually no, I appreciate that. Rav. I really do, man, you know. Listen. If we’re talking inclusion for people that have been excluded for so long, you know, we have to continue to remember how that felt. You know, you talk about being in conversations.

RAC: I’ve been on campuses before. Where, as NPC, yeah, we’re always a part of conversation. But we there’s also instances, Raf, where we’ve been othered just by sure sheer number, you know, you’re talking about thousands of IFC/Panhel. It is very easy to overlook, you know, a dozen or handful of NPHC, and then, you know, our students feel left out. They feel alienated, even if it’s not intentional, you know what that feels like. And so the to your point. Many of our other CBFO brothers or sisters can often feel that way, and I think in some instances, if we’re not careful, we can do the same thing to them right? And if we know how that feels. You know, that we have to be leaders in that way. Inclusion. Really being intentional about that across the board. And so I appreciate you recognizing that cause. That’s something that I always try to do. It’s always something I try to make sure my team does. As we’re moving along in this thing called the collective you know this thing called the multiverse of what I call it, you know, as it relates to the fraternal industry that that is important to make sure that we do. And and and once you do that in those other perspectives that you mentioned, like we were talking about. Slg, come into play. Because you start to see the intersectionality between organizational, individual institutional culture. I mean, you could just see that the social ecological model. You know that that showed that the interplay and relationships between these different entities and how it shows up and what it shows up for. So I think that’s important, but it it leads with, am I being intentional and being inclusive? And how can I be more committed to making sure that I do that.

DRM: Hey? Listen! You listen. You just hit the multiverse. I’m about to use that in some presentation about sharing and empower all of us going to continue that I remember rap when we were saying culturally based fraternal organizations. CBFO and people really, you know, that’s still not a widely accepted term, but it’s more accepted than it was. And I think a lot of that is because the intentionality that we’ve utilized that to empower people to get them to know about that. So please use that. You know, that’s what this is about these conversations, this knowledge, this awareness, this excitement. You know that that’s what this is about is sharing and spreading that word.

RAC: Yeah.

DRM: Awesome. Well. and we’re coming to the close of our time together. You know, anytime I get to talk to you. I just feel like I’ve accomplished something great, and to today is no exception. So as we close out, do you have any parting thoughts?

RAC: No, not not any particularly Raf, but I just want to encourage, well, one, I will say just, I want to encourage people that are doing the work. Please continue to do the work. It can seem overwhelming. And many times you know, the challenges are unimaginable. You know, and they can seem overwhelming. But you’re needed more than you know, and more people are paying attention than you may think. And don’t ever lose that you know. Continue to do what you feel, what you see, cause you are making a difference, and you’re laying the groundwork for people to continue to build on that so we can build this legacy for others to take advantage of in the future.

DRM: Well, my brother, thank you very much for your time to all our listeners out there. Thank you for tuning in and spending time with us. We will catch you next time on the next installment of Perspectives. Alright. So you have a great day.

RAC: All right. You, too. Thank you, Raf. Appreciate it.

 

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