Almost a century after it was founded to promote Hellenism and to combat discrimination against Greeks in America, AHEPA is leading the way in the Greek American community as it heads into its 92nd annual convention in New Orleans on July 21st.
I grew up in a city where AHEPA was big, but the truth is, Pittsburgh’s AHEPA community was plagued with in-fighting, nasty politics and a lot of things I wanted nothing to do with. Others, however, thrived on it and that was fine, as far as I was concerned. I just wasn’t interested.
But that was my own, personal experience. Others were able to stay away from the politics and rise above it all, for a common good. And that good has been quite good, over the years.
Millions of dollars in scholarships to Greek American students, dozens of important philanthropic projects in the United States, Greece and beyond; leadership in times of crisis— including during earthquakes, the invasion of Cyprus and other important moments in Greek and Greek-US history— I can go on.
But what I’m so impressed with this year is a human story that deals with those the AHEPA has selected to honor with its highest awards at their upcoming convention.
Two exemplary Greek Americans, celebrity chef and TV personality Cat Cora and Walt Disney World CEO George Kalogridis, two people I know and am honored to call my friends, are amongst the honorees.
I must say that years ago, I was involved in a prominent Greek Orthodox organization comprised of some of the top business leaders in the nation. I served on a committee that was organizing the annual conference and the members wanted to involve people like Cat Cora and even George Kalogridis as potential honorees. Sadly, these dynamic people were overlooked and some tense dialogue took place between the committee— all because both Cora and Kalogridis are openly gay and, as one person said on a call— “they have no place in our community.”
Needless to say, I quickly submitted my resignation to the committee chair and also stopped paying my dues to that organization which I am no longer a member of, nor want any affiliation with.
I am proud that AHEPA and its leadership can think so progressively— that a Greek American community organization— often criticized for being “old fashioned” and its leaders called “dinosaurs”— can look beyond a person’s sexual orientation and honor people for their contributions to their community, their achievements, and to American society as a whole. This is something that most Greek American community organizations wouldn’t do— and as evidenced by my own experience with that church-affiliated organization, would reject outright.
AHEPA was founded almost a hundred years ago to fight the KKK and its discrimination against Greeks. Almost a century of remarkable philanthropic and educational efforts— and now, an organization of progressive thinking and inclusiveness— and an organization all Greek Americans can have a place in— not just select ones.
Bravo, AHEPA. Just bravo.