Even though no man in his family was an Omega – most were members of other fraternities – Martin says he was drawn to the organization.
“They tried to talk me out of it, but I knew it was the right thing to do,” Martin said.
Charles Bowers knew, too, though it took him a little longer to join. He joined the year after Martin, whom he called a “big brother,” after witnessing firsthand the group’s commitment to service.
The University had very few Black students – Martin estimated that there were just under 100 in his class – and Omega Psi Phi served as a kind of refuge.
“Back in the early ’70s, there weren’t a lot of outlets for Black students on Grounds, socially,” Bowers said.
Bowers worked as a photographer in the University’s graphics department and documented the events Omega Psi Phi and other student groups organized. He even participated in some of Lambda Zeta’s service projects, like roofing a house. After graduating in 1976, Bowers worked in telecommunications, quickly rising the ranks at Verizon companies.
“Service is ingrained in us,” Bowers said.
Stafford Brown, now a radiologist, knew he wanted to join Omega Psi Phi after watching a step show in his home state of Connecticut. A first-generation college student, he forfeited a full scholarship at the University of Connecticut to come to UVA.
“There was a mystique about the Lambda Zeta chapter brothers at that time. They were really high achievers, so it was easy for me to gravitate to excellence,” Brown said.
Members of the Lambda Zeta chapter have gone on to make history. The late Leroy Hassell became the first Black chief justice of the Virginia Supreme Court. Martin was the first Black rector of UVA’s Board of Visitors. Other Lambda Zeta members have become leaders in law, business and medicine.
UVA’s current vice rector, Carlos Brown, was inspired to join his hometown chapter of Omega Psi Phi after meeting some of the men of Lambda Zeta, including Martin and Hassell. Martin hired him at the law firm McGuire Woods, first as a summer associate, then as an associate.
“All of a sudden, the dots are connecting,” Carlos Brown said. “These are men who impact lives, right? And I want to be a man that ultimately impacts lives in a way that’s positive and affirming.”