By Basil N. Karayannis, MD
President, AHEPA Chapter, Thermopylae #445
Many of you Hellenes and Philhellenes who frequent Cosmos Philly may either be a member of AHEPA or have a varying degree of knowledge about it. None the less, it’s a proud organization rooted in Atlanta, GA since 1922. A group of men who had somewhat established themselves in a new country had a vision and saw the need to assist a growing Greek community against the bigotry and ethnic slurring aimed at Greeks. That’s right, Greeks were mixed in with other ethnicities and targeted by hate groups such as the Ku Klux Klan and others; your papou Stavros may have had a burning cross at his front door! Passionately this nucleus of “brothers” founded an organization and named it AHEPA (American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association). News of such an occurrence spread quickly and many leaders in other Greek communities started up their own chapters. AHEPA is now recognized nationally and internationally by its many hundreds of chapters.
In its ninety-one years the mission has shifted from getting people on their feet and grounding those individuals in a new land although local chapters will do this now if needed. AHEPA sponsors many programs ranging the gamut of education, scholarship and many philanthropic endeavors. These are all worthy causes and the organization has structure at the national, district and chapter/community level. This brings me to what I really want to shed light upon.
My local AHEPA chapter, Thermopylae #445, recently attempted through due process a change in districts. The sentiment for that change in district is rooted in a long standing history of politics, personalities and camaraderie with brothers of our neighboring New Jersey District #5. This is not the platform to account such a history but AHEPA bylaws state it is possible and there is previous precedent for a chapter changing districts. Let’s face it, our chapter as well as others in the Philadelphia area have more in common with each other and South Jersey chapters than with chapters in the Pittsburgh area; Pennsylvania is a district unto itself, Power District #4.
Thermopylae #445 was unsuccessful in its petition for district change; voted down at the Supreme Lodge level and kicked back to the Supreme Lodge when presented again at the National Convention this past August. But, the sentiment still persists in our chapter. Apparently, other chapters in the area have contemplated such a course in the past but not to the extent Thermopylae did. We will continue to do what AHEPANS do; serve our community with a philanthropic mission and support Hellenism. There was never an attempt to give rise to anarchy within the AHEPA ranks but hope for a better AHEPA. Spawning from Thermopylae’s unsuccessful bid is our voice and vision for a restructuring/redistricting of AHEPA.
AHEPA should depart from an archaic system of a state or group of states constituting a district. Structuring newly organized districts along population centers and regions is more sensible. In those areas where population density is low, redistricting needs to be done along reasonable and acceptable guidelines. Why do we have a voice and concern for change? A better organized AHEPA will be more cohesive allowing districts to function better for goals toward education, philanthropy, brotherhood and propagating Hellenism. AHEPA does so much now, think what can be accomplished with better organization; district governors, lodges and chapters will be more efficient and probably generate more interest about AHEPA if they are able to function better. I’m not naïve and know it is not an easy task. I just checked my driver’s license, it says I wasn’t born yesterday (not happy with the date though, another story).
AHEPA will be 100 years old in less than a decade. I would hope that it positions itself for more efficient and meaningful growth while approaching the centennial milestone. Nothing that is important is easy or quick. A reorganization within AHEPA will be a battle and won’t please everyone. When members of the the Supreme Lodge including the Supreme President state that “they will look into it”, I unfortunately take it with a grain of salt; thank goodness for my lack of naivety and not being born yesterday. So, if you share Thermopylae’s view on the matter, raise the issue with your Chapter President, District Governor, Supreme Governor or the Supreme Lodge.
I will remain an AHEPAN no matter what organizational state it is in as long as good work continues to be done. Perhaps you may consider joining a chapter convenient for you, new blood and new thinking is a good thing within the right group of Brothers.