Sisterhood, service, scholarship, suffrage. Intelligence, innovation, honor, loyalty. It was on January 13, 1913 that Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. was founded on the campus of Howard University. This year the sorority celebrates 104 years of changing the world as we know it – a path chartered by the organization’s 22 illustrious founders. The collective strength and academic excellence promoted by the organization serves as part of the fabric of women’s history across the world.
When I joined a sorority 25 years ago, I was most interested in the community service projects of the organizations. I was fortunate to have family members who were members of greek organizations and I grew up hearing about fraternity this or sorority that. While the projects varied and the letters of the greek alphabet were different, the bottom line was the same.
Black Greek Letter Organizations (BGLOs) are groups of college-educated men and women who promote service, sisterhood (for sororities), brotherhood (for fraternities), and scholarship for initiative that primarily benefit African Americans. They were founded in the early part of the 20th century at college campuses across the U.S. and based on Christian principles. There nine such organizations, sometimes referred to as The Divine Nine , who together are known as The National Pan-Hellenic Council.
Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. – founded in 1906 at Cornell University
Famous Alphas include Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Thurgood Marshall, Duke Ellington, Roland Martin, Stuart Scott, and David Dinkins
Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. – founded in 1908 at Howard University
Famous AKAs include Coretta Scott King, Maya Angelou, Phylicia Rashad, Wanda Sykes, Toni Morrison, and Star Jones
Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc. – founded in 1911 at Indiana University
Famous Kappas include Arthur Ashe, Johnnie Cochran, Cedric the Entertainer, Tavis Smiley, Montell Jordan, and Penny Hardaway
Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc. – founded in 1911 at Howard University
Famous Omegas include Rev. Jesse Jackson, Bill Cosby, Tom Joyner, Steve Harvey, Michael Jordan, and Shaquille O’Neal
Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. – founded in 1913 at Howard University
Famous Deltas include Ruby Dee, Lena Horne, Natalie Cole, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Keisha Knight Pulliam, and Soledad O’Brien
Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc. – founded in 1914 at Howard University
Famous Sigmas include Blair Underwood, Bill Clinton, Emmitt Smith, Al Sharpton, Al Roker, and Malik Yoba
Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. – founded in 1920 at Howard University
Famous Zetas include Gwendolyn Brooks, Zora Neale Underwood, Esther Rolle, Sheryl Underwood, Towanda Braxton, and Dionne Warwick
Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc. – founded in 1922 at Butler University
Famous SGRhos include Hattie McDaniel, Vanessa Bell Armstong, Victoria Rowell, Anna Maria Horsford, MC Lyte, Kelly Price
Iota Phi Theta Fraternity, Inc. – founded in 1963 at Morgan State University
Famous Iotas include: T.C. Carson, Spencer Christian, Desi Arnez Hines II, Jason Olazabal, and Kendrick Jevon Dean
The month of January is even more special as five of the nine organizations celebrate the founding of their organizations. For BGLOs, membership is for a lifetime. College undergraduates and graduate members of varying ages continue their committment to public service promoting the organizations founding principles in order to make the world a better place. Educational equality, voting rights, criminal justice, the provision of quality healthcare, and the mentoring of youth are few of the causes of these organizations that have impact across the world.
My membership in Delta Sigma Theta is referenced a lot in our family. The teens are even more aware of the rich community impact and involvement; while also understanding the amazing bond I share with my sorority sisters. They were taught at a young age that Delta women proudly stand on the shoulders of giants including Broadway Thespian Osceola McCarthy Adams, Army Brigadier General Hazel Johnson Brown, Renowned Sculptor Selma Burke and Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm.
Without having heard this quote directly from Mary McLeod Bethune, it is evident that my three know “The Delta girl is one who has been given the opportunity of education and broad development: she is one who has enjoyed the privileges of culture and selected environment…It is pleasing to a heartfelt depth to see her not as self-centered, not desirous of selfish power, not wanting the plaudits of people, not wanting glory – but with a purpose which directs her activities and all that she may control toward lifting somebody else.”
And believe it or not, being a Delta has impacted my parenting and the life lessons I pass on to my children.
- It closes the distance between our family when we feel homesick for Chicago or Mississippi. Deltas are everywhere. I could move as far away as Japan and still have a support system.
- Being in a sorority enhances already exisiting familial relationships. I have several cousins who are Deltas. We are already close as cousins, but the sorority adds a new dimension to our relationship.
- My sorority sisters support my efforts as a mom. My kids call them Aunties. Their kids call me Auntie. We recognize as parents that we always can use help from one another.
- Sorority life was my first introduction to conflict resolution. I’m an only child. I didn’t have sibling issues to help me deal with conflict resolution when I was growing up, but once I gained sisters in Delta, I learned.
- I love traditions. I love traditions associated with holidays. I love traditions associated with church. And for the past 25 years, I’ve loved the traditions associated with the sorority.
- I learned how to respect protocol. There’s always an appropriate chain of command to follow. Knowing this came in handy for issues with my professors as well as workplace supervisors.
- The idea of changing the world, participating in grass roots efforts, and making a difference in life all boil down to involvement in community service activities. That’s what’s at the foundation of BGLO’s. Community service…period.
Are you a member of any organizations that inspire you on life’s journey?
For more information about the National Pan-Hellenic Council, click here. For more information specifically about Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. click here.