Kevin Scott suggested the creation of a portrait of Elder Watson Diggs in 2016 — 100 years after the trailblazing Indiana University alumnus graduated.
Diggs was the first Black graduate of the IU School of Education and a co-founder of Kappa Alpha Psi, the first Black fraternity at IU Bloomington and one of the few fraternities in the Divine Nine to have been started at a predominantly white institution.
Scott, grand historian of Kappa Alpha Psi, saw his idea realized Sept. 30 in the atrium of the W.W. Wright Education Building. There, a portrait of Diggs painted by artist Shawn Michael Warren was formally unveiled.
“A dedicated educator who served as a teacher and principal in various Indiana schools, Diggs’ life epitomized determination and resilience in the face of adversity and an unwavering dedication to equality and justice,” IU President Pamela Whitten wrote in a letter about the occasion. “With the unveiling of this portrait, we honor a man whose legacy shines as a guiding light, leading us toward a future where every student, regardless of their background, can prosper.”
The portrait unveiling coincided with the first Diggs Symposium, which provided professional development workshops in diversity for teachers, teacher aides and administrative staff at the preschool through sixth-grade level. It included seminars and panel discussions on recruitment and support efforts to attract more Black men to pursue careers in education.
Kappa Alpha Psi Foundation President Michael J. DuBose said the gathering was a clear sign of the partnership, support and outreach that have been cultivated among Indiana University, Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Inc. and the Kappa Alpha Psi Foundation.
“The School of Education strives to cultivate a culture of care, to create an equitable and inclusive environment, and to pursue diversity, equity and inclusion in all we do,” Dean Stacy Morrone said, pointing to the School of Education Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion; the Faculty Policy Council Committee on Diversity; and the Holmes Scholars Program. “I look forward to our continued collaboration with the Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity and Foundation as we work together to change the face of education.”
The School of Education also awards the Kappa Alpha Psi-endowed Diggs Scholarship to students majoring in education who have demonstrated a commitment to diversity; and it offers the Diggs Inclusive Teacher Project, which provides student employment and diversity training for four future educators each academic term.
“When Elder Watson Diggs dreamed of my grand fraternity, he dreamed of a way to unite college men of high ideals and achievement under one bond,” said Kappa Alpha Psi Junior Grand Vice Polemarch Jordan Q. Smith, a student in the Kelley School of Business. “Founder Diggs lives in every single member of my fraternity. He’s motivated us all to achieve in every field of human endeavor.”
IU alumnus and Kappa Alpha Psi Grand Polemarch Jimmy McMikle recalled how his connection with Diggs shifted over time — from feeling “a tremendous responsibility to carry on his legacy by personally achieving,” to considering “the boldness and courage necessary to champion an African American cause in Indiana during the early 1900s,” to the responsibility to honor Diggs’ legacy extending far past personal achievement.
Since its founding, Kappa Alpha Psi has grown from 10 men at IU Bloomington to a membership of more than 200,000, with a footprint of close to 700 chapters in more than 400 communities across the continental United States and 13 overseas territories.
“That’s a powerful motivational message for any student, regardless of organizational affiliation or educational or occupational field of pursuit,” said McMikle, who helped unveil the portrait. “And because his picture now hangs in the School of Education, it will forever serve as an unforgettable sense of pride for all Kappa Men who carry the torch of his legacy of achievement.”
“It is my sincere intention that the commissioning of the Elder Watson Diggs portrait will forever symbolize the transcendence of life’s challenges while pursuing honorable achievement,” said Anthony Stepney, executive director of the Kappa Alpha Psi Foundation. “It is my hope that the creation of the Elder Watson Diggs endowment works in perpetuity to support our collective future for careers in education. Finally, may our commitment to the Elder Watson Diggs Education Symposium inspire us all to engage in sharing our time, talents and resources to create the best collective opportunities for students and future educators.”