Progressive Legacy: Omega Frater Don Bramlett
By Quinton Arthur
Statistically, minority students are under-prepared for the rigor of collegiate-level work, and over half of enrolled students do not make it to graduation. Omega Frater Don Bramlett has not only helped students make it through college, but he is helping to change the narrative on minority achievement.
Bramlett grew up in St. Louis, MO where he attended Beaumont High School. For Bramlett, basketball was always an outlet as he played for the team throughout his years. He then went on to community college to receive his Associate degree, where he continued playing basketball. For his academic excellence and athletic prowess, he earned a scholarship to go to Northeast Missouri State College, now known as Truman State University.
At the time, Bramlett’s girlfriend attended Fisk University, where she constantly talked about Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc. Bramlett remembered all the work the fraternity did when he was growing up and wanted to be a part of that. Don was initiated into Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc. in 1969. After graduating, Bramlett spent a year and a half teaching junior high school, where he quickly learned it wasn’t his passion.
“My advisor talked to me about my career goals,” Bramlett said. “He talk to me about administration, which I never really thought about, so I decided to pursue counseling.”
Bramlett attended Truman again, receiving a Master’s in Counseling. Using that experience, he fulfilled the position of a counselor at Danville High School for three years. At a conference on counseling, Bramlett ran into a former high school teammate, where he learned about a position opening at Northern Illinois University (NIU).
Bramlett accepted the position as a counselor for the CHANCE program, a program that assisted students whose pre-college education did not fully prepare them for college. He stayed in the position for seven years assisting a variety of students across campus. After, he started academic advising for student athletes, which lasted 15 years. What followed was a position that would greatly impact on student life at NIU.
In 1999, Bramlett became the Director of Retention programs at NIU. In the position, he helped the university increase the graduation rate for diverse students. He noticed the matriculation rate of minority students throughout college was alarmingly low. He began to investigate and found that students were not only unprepared, but also did not know the necessary steps to be successful in college.
Bramlett founded the African-American Male Mentoring Program in 2001 for regularly admitted African-American male students. While students with low grade point averages and ACT scores received the benefit of programs such as CHANCE and TriO, many regularly admitted African-American male students were often left to fend on their own. The program began with six students, who all successfully graduated and maintained a 2.61 GPA as a whole. The students were admitted into their majors and other programs, such as the John Henrik Clarke Honor Society and University Honors program.
When Bramlett saw the impact the organization had on six students, he began to go to campus recruiting events, orientation days, and other related events in order to increase the membership. The organization started off with six members; now, an average of 70 members attended weekly meetings.
In 2003, the name was changed to Black Male Initiative (BMI) and members began wearing business attire to defeat the stereotype that Black men only wear suits for church, court, or funerals. BMI became affiliated with the national organization, Student African-American Brotherhood (SAAB), which is composed of similar organizations across campuses in America.
BMI has provided leadership training, mentoring, service project opportunities and academic support for many students for their duration throughout college. For those actively involved in the organization, there is a 100% graduation rate.
Seeing the similar need for guidance in the Latino community, Don founded Supporting Opportunities for Latinos. Many students attribute their current success to the dedication Bramlett has done on
“Don has been an inspiration,” says Taurean Small, an Emmy-nominated reporter for ABC 57 news. “His mentorship inspired me to pursue leadership roles in the organization Black Male Initiative. Because of him, I am currently working to create a similar organization at South Bend’s Ivy Tech College campus.”
Don has been the faculty advisor for many organizations on campus including Black Male Initiative, Supporting Opportunities for Latinos, Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, Latino, Student Alliance, Iota Phi Theta Fraternity, Inc. and Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc. to name a few. Most recently, he has helped the women on campus organize and create the Student African-American Sisterhood (SAAS), a female counterpart of SAAB.
In 2007, he retired from his position, but continued serving the community as the Graduation Specialist on campus. In 2010, he was the recipient of the Deacon Davis Diversity Award for his contributions to the lives of minorities on the campus of NIU.
“The greatest joy is the relationships I have with all my students. I would do this type of work for free if I didn’t have bills and a mortgage,” Bramlett says jokingly. “I was able to follow my passion the whole time at NIU, I just feel blessed.”
Don has a wife, Rita, and a son Aaron.