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Legacy & Brotherhood: Jabrill Peppers, Deatrich Wise Jr. reflect on impact of 'Divine Nine' during Black History Month

“At Michigan, I had the bond of brotherhood from my football team, but also from my fraternity. It was the best of both worlds."

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The year is 2013.

New England Patriots captain Deatrich Wise Jr. is a redshirt freshman with the University of Arkansas playing against No. 10 Texas A&M. The Razorbacks defensive lineman is having a phenomenal game, with a career-high six tackles in the SEC opener, but there is one celebration in particular that stands out.

Just before halftime, on 4th-and-14, Wise and a teammate sack Aggies quarterback Johnny Manziel. He takes a few giant steps and breaks into the signature shimmy associated with Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Incorporated.

"I ended up sacking Johnny Manziel – a sack-fumble," Wise recalls. "I had just finished my pledge process and became a member (of the fraternity). I was just very excited so that was the first thing I did."

Becoming a Kappa was, in a way, a rite of passage for Wise.

His father was a Kappa at Jackson State, along with a few other men in his family. Wise's mother was a member of Delta Sigma Theta, another historically Black Greek Letter Organization under the National Pan-Hellenic Council (NPHC).

Their influence was apparent in his decision to rush for a fraternity at Arkansas.

"My dad said if you want to pledge, pledge Kappa," Wise said. "If you don't pledge Kappa you just shouldn't pledge."

Patriots teammate Jabrill Peppers also felt called to one of the Divine Nine organizations that make up the NPHC. His mother, too, was a Delta, but when he arrived on Michigan's campus for his freshman year, rushing for Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Incorporated wasn't to carry out a family legacy.

His father was incarcerated when Peppers was just seven years old. They shared 15-minute phone calls, but his mother and father never let Peppers visit in person. When he was 14, his older brother Don, who sheltered him from the streets and encouraged him to pursue his athletic talents, was shot and killed.

At a pivotal age, both of the most dominant father figures were taken from him. His mother had to take it all on.

"It's so easy to get caught up in all of the wrong things when you're from where I am from," Peppers said.

"It's so easy to get sidetracked. It's so easy to stray off your path. I didn't have my dad for most of my childhood, so my mom had to wear two hats. She always said she couldn't teach me how to be a man but I think she did a damn good job. She was always on me about my schoolwork, always on me about knowing right from wrong. She taught me that no matter what happens in life, it's up to you to push through."

He did just that.

Staying focused on football and his academics, he earned a scholarship at the prestigious University of Michigan. A long way from home, he organically found his Ann Arbor family.

"One of the main things that drew me to the brotherhood was the fact that I lost my brother," said Peppers.

"Growing up, I wasn't necessarily as close to my brother as I wanted to be because my dad was in jail. So that was a big thing for me, because no matter where I go in the world, there's a man of Omega somewhere nearby. All I have to do is reach out and I have a brother everywhere."

For both Peppers and Wise, the traditions and relationships that came along with joining Omega Psi Phi Fraternity Inc. and Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Inc. molded them into the men they are today.

Since it was founded in 1911, Omega's stated purpose was to attract and build a strong force of men dedicated to the core principles of manhood, scholarship, perseverance, and uplifting.

Peppers says he lived by these ideals long before he was old enough from college. Surrounding himself with those like-minded individuals brought him even higher.

"Friendship is essential to the soul," Peppers said, echoing the official Omega motto.

"At Michigan, I had the bond of brotherhood from my football team, but also from my fraternity," Peppers said.

"It was the best of both worlds, man. Just having my brothers on both sides pushing me to be better and challenge myself – I think that was very instrumental in my growth as a man. That journey made me a better man, made me a better human, and taught me about humility."

Wise echoed that sentiment.

"A lot of people come from different walks of life – people who are similar but with different stories – and it provides a family outside of your actual family," Wise said. "You can't pick your family, but you can pick your friends that eventually turn into family. When everyone is like-minded and on the same path of achieving excellence, aiming to a higher purpose, serving their community, it's promising."

When discussing their respective experiences, both credit their fraternities for emphasizing the importance of accountability, uplifting, and community.

At an early age, various coaches and teachers noticed Peppers possessed the spirit of a natural leader. They drilled into him that his peers looked up to him, and it was up to him to set a good example.

"As a kid, I didn't understand why I was getting in trouble for other kids wanting to do the same things as me," Peppers said. "As I got older I had to understand that people naturally gravitate towards others, for whatever reason. With that comes a lot of responsibility, so as I got older and more mature, I started embracing that role."

Wise agreed that along with the important ideals of Kappas, accountability was how they maintained that standard.

"People are watching what you say and do, because you're not only representing yourself and your family, and for me the football team, but you're also representing a fraternity that is known nationally," Wise said of his fraternity that also dates back to 1911.

"Our motto is to achieve in every field of human endeavor. In everything I do, I try to reach whatever the highest point of achievement in that field is. That's something that is the result of determination, resilience, and hard work. On the field and off the field, being able to persevere and be resilient against things that come up in my life, hard work, being dedicated to my craft, and getting better – that's the model I've also adopted."

Both Wise and Peppers are in good company with their respective fraternities. Many athletes, entertainers, academics, scientists, politicians, and activists who impacted Black culture and society so profoundly were men of the Divine Nine.

"There have been so many instrumental and prestigious men who crossed the burning sands before me, and to call them my brothers, and know they went through what I went through to achieve membership and to be forever intertwined with those guys – there's no feeling greater than that," Peppers said.

"So many men of Omega have had an impact on our history."

Wise adds, "It's a good party to be part of. So many have paved the way for us. We're standing on a lot of shoulders: politics, entertainment, athletes, scientists, doctors – you name it, Kappa has it."

Years removed from college, they're carrying those ideals in everything they pursue to build on that legacy.

Not long after his sack celebration, Wise was completing his summer classes in his sophomore year. He'd spent time on other campuses, noting Southern Methodist University specifically, and saw a discrepancy in the way Divine Nine organizations were celebrated at other campuses.

"I realized a lack of representation on the University of Arkansas campus for the Divine Nine," Wise said.

"Only one fraternity and one sorority had a house. No dedications or plots. When you got to campus you couldn't even tell we were there."

Wise wanted to do something about it and reached out to the NPCH. For eight years, with help of fellow students, they went back and forth, voting on details and pitching the perfect space to Arkansas university officials to the point that he almost forgot about the project.

Finally, he got a call that they would break ground on dedicating the NEPC Garden that overlooks Razorback Stadium. A dedication ceremony was held on Oct. 16, 2021, and he later got to see it for himself while back in town for the football team's Spring game last year.

It now serves as a monument to commemorate the rich heritage of the historically Black fraternities and sororities at Arkansas.

His vision became a reality, and now it will benefit everyone who follows.

"That is the space for the Divine Nine to express themselves in any way they want to," Wise said.

"Whether that's step shows, whether that's community events, whatever. Movies, game nights, anything. Now there's a designated area to represent the Divine Nine, pay homage to the ones who came before us, and lead the path for those who come after us."

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