On the Horizon of a Brand New Frontier


Photo credit to Ron Holder.

This article first appeared in the spring 2022 Mace & Crown magazine issue. 


NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, have become the focus of many investors, day traders, and students alike over the past few years. One ODU senior, Ron Holder, decided to create his own set of NFTs to represent the Black Greek letter organizations at Old Dominion University. Not only is he fronting the whole operation, it’s a project he has been working on before NFTs started taking internet pop culture by storm. Despite NFTs recent surge in popularity, there’s still misconceptions about their purpose. However, Holder feels that NFTs have more potential than trendy ape images being used as status symbols.


Holder is an international student from Guyana majoring in cybercrime. He came to the United States when he was only 9 years old. He recalls his experience coming into New York as, “It felt like an entire new world…like wow, this is real.” 


As Holder grew accustomed to American culture, he struggled with what he described as “a rough adjustment.” As Ron grew older, he started developing an interest in the digital world. “When I was pretty young, I was always on the computer as a kid…I would be in chat rooms like 4Chan or Reddit. And with that, people [were always] talking about crypto.” 


As Holder observed the crypto world and made his way through college, he also ended up joining Alpha Phi Alpha, a historically Black fraternity founded in 1906. The source of his inspiration to make the Divine Nine NFT project? Holder recalls it as such: “…I [had] been browsing that market for a couple of months now and I noticed that there was no real representation of any type of Greek letter organizations on those blockchains. So what I wanted to do was to create a project that not only shows representation of all the Divine Nine organizations and all of the good that they’ve done, but also create a space where those members can get rewards… creating a positive out of the whole NFT space by having some of the proceeds go towards scholarships and those types of community service initiatives.” 


The Divine Nine, also known as The National Pan-Hellenic Council, refers to all nine historically Black fraternities and sororities in the United States. Ron remembers fondly how Alpha Phi Alpha gave him a community he could be a part of while experiencing personal growth, “So upon joining the organization, it really clicked on me that I was in a room full of like minded people, people that are…high impact individuals, and it made me want to rise up to that. I think that’s important having a group of friends or just peers that kind of pushed you, in this case, brothers that pushed you to be the best that you can be.” 


Holder started his Divine Nine NFT collection with high hopes. What separates him from many mainstream NFT projects is how he’s completely transparent with his goals for it. Holder aims to serve the community and plans to use a portion of his funds for scholarships. He doesn’t look at his project to make a large profit but rather to leave a legacy in a fraternity that has done so much to change his world. In addition to that, he’s also aiming to dedicate NFTs to celebrities who are a part of the Divine Nine like Yayah Abdul-Mateen II.


It’s important to see how NFTs exploded in the first place. Cryptocurrency has captured the interest of novice and expert investors ever since it went mainstream. NFTs came to be around 2015, when the earliest transitions were completed. Then came 2020, and with it uncertainty about America’s future economic state. This caused people to put their money into another form of currency that could grow in value over time. Of course, this other form of currency was crypto. People started becoming more involved with crypto as it became more mainstream. 


Bitcoin’s value exploded from being priced in the mid $300s to a roaring $17,000s range in 2017. To put it into perspective, that’s a 5,000% increase over a three year period. Nowadays, Bitcoin has reached a jaw-dropping price point that’s currently wavering between the mid $30,000s and mid $40,000s. An alternative form of currency, known as Ethereum, has also been on the rise within that market. Ethereum is regarded as being more versatile when it comes to utility. Ethereum’s price also escalated to a $3,000+ price point compared to its $200 coin worth during the start of the pandemic in 2020. Crypto started gaining more and more traction and became more prevalent among mainstream audiences thanks to the increasing accessibility and easy-to-use platforms like Robinhood and CashApp. When people became more involved in crypto, they started noticing NFTs thanks to its close ties with coins like Ethereum. What also aided in NFTs’ rising popularity was artists and creators using them to promote their content and artwork. There’s no doubt that NFTs gained more attention after average people started getting more and more involved with crypto


Despite this demonstration of potential monumental profit, investors are still skeptical about putting money in a market that has no certainty. Even though the following statement might seem ironic, stocks are not as unpredictable when it comes to investing in financial assets. You can still look at a company’s data, their plans for future investments, and market trends. You can’t necessarily make educated predictions when it comes to cryptocurrency. It could peak, or crash significantly, within the span of a day. These types of investments can quite literally break the bank if you’re using all your money to invest in one market, or currency. 


Another noteworthy concern is the safety and security behind crypto, especially in the case of fraud. The most popular method of exploiting security measures is known as phishing. Phishing attacks refer to attempts at tricking others into sharing sensitive information, or sending money, to individuals that act as trusted parties. It’s no surprise that OpenSea, the most popular online NFT marketplace, was a target for such attacks. Phishing attacks and easily exploitable bugs are already occurring on OpenSea. In January of 2022, hackers exploited a bug on OpenSea that allowed users to purchase NFTs using older contracts with cheaper prices was found within the system.


Unfortunately, some investors have been scammed into transferring personal details thanks to a swindler posing as an official OpenSea account. A popular website is bound to be the target of black-hat hackers, hackers that aim to criminally exploit websites. However, it is concerning that bugs are present in high-profile trading sites. There’s an immense risk for investors to lose thousands of dollars because of a lack of internet security. While it’s not a trait only attributed to OpenSea, it still is concerning that the biggest platform for NFT trading is facing these issues. 


This is why Holder decided to avoid the OpenSea platform. Even though these sites could offer a better means of gaining traction, it’s not a risk he would be willing to go through. Holder expanded his NFT project into XinFin, a site that’s offering services that ensure a greater use of security than other standard blockchain platforms. This is thanks to XinFin’s system that validates transactions and ensures there’s transparency within any purchases. 


Holder’s dedication and determination with building Divine Nine NFTs is nothing short of meritable. However, one of the biggest questions regarding the importance of NFTs is, “What’s so special about NFTs?” 


Holder argues it’s not so much about “what” NFTs are, but rather about the “what” behind their potential.


 “The implementations are endless,” said Holder. “NFTs can be used for house deeds or be an opportunity for artists to use it for exclusive releases.” One such example of this potential is how Wu-Tang Clan handed their album “Now Once Upon a Time in Shaolin”, which only has one copy in existence, over to a group of NFT collectors known as PleasrDAO. However, Holder explains that what NFTs need is utility above all else, such as “discounts for clothing lines, or something tangible.” 


Adding utility to crypto would convince more people to invest in these assets. After all, companies like Tesla and CannaeProGear have implemented the ability to make purchases through using cryptocurrency. However, NFT sales have dropped dramatically since its highest point during the summer. Holder spoke about this, saying: “The market did need to mature because it went pretty wild with everybody buying entities…I think [history] rhymes itself…so hopefully we’ll see another return of [NFTs].” 


The future for NFTs and cryptocurrency looks uncertain. Whatever happens to them, all we can hope for is that its impact in today’s society will be for the better of it.