WASHINGTON – As a proud member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. – the first Greek-letter organization for Black women – vice president-elect Kamala Harris’ win last month shed new light on the National Panhellenic Council (NPHC), but civic engagement for these organizations has always been a priority.
“As Black people we are community oriented and we’re really big on tradition,” said Erienne Reniajal Lewis, a member of the NPHC. “Those are two things that really run deep amongst members of Black Greek-letter organizations.”
For members who pledge, Black Greek-letter organizations (BGLOs) are a lifetime commitment. Work and service doesn’t stop after graduation. The Divine Nine, or “D9” as it is commonly referred to, is a collaborative umbrella organization of the historically Black Greek-letter fraternities and sororities. Foundational aspects of BGLOs include leadership and service, which is why the election of Sen. Kamala Harris to the second highest-ranking position in the country is so significant.
Alpha Kappa Alpha, also known as AKA, was founded in 1908 on Howard University’s campus by Ethel Hedgeman Lyle, just two years after the first Black intercollegiate Greek-letter organization was founded, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.
“Everything Kamala has done is what AKA stands for,” said Apryl Fort-Kelly, a member of the NPHC. “It’s never been a secret who the AKAs are, Kamala just brought attention to us nationally.”
Harris is not only the first Black and South Asian woman elected Vice President, but also the first graduate of a Historically Black College and University (HBCU) and first member of a historically Black Greek-letter organization to be elected to the position. Lewis said that her representation means everything.
“For [Sen. Harris] to represent so many firsts, it speaks to the history of this country and gives you a sense of trust in a system that you might have been losing hope in,” Lewis said.
In her acceptance speech on Nov. 7 Harris said, “While I may be the first woman in this office, I will not be the last.” She encouraged little girls to, “dream with ambition, lead with conviction and see yourselves in a way that others may not, simply because they’ve never seen it before.”
Although Harris is the first Black woman elected Vice President, Black men and women representing the NPHC have been working in politics for years. Shirley Chisholm was a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. and became the first Black woman elected to the United States Congress in 1968. Chisholm went on to become the first Black woman to run for the Democratic party’s nomination for President of the United States in 1972. Today, there are 35 members of Congress who are members of the NPHC, some of whom were also firsts to represent their Black Greek-letter organizations.
Men and women who are members of the D9 have been creating initiatives to mobilize voters for years and played a monumental role in United States politics tracing back to the days when Martin Luther King Jr., a member of Alpha Phi Alpha marched for freedom and equality for Black people.
Following Harris’ acceptance speech, she gave a shoutout to her sisters of AKA, the D9 and HBCUs. Four of the NPHC sororities – AKA, Delta Sigma Theta, Sigma Gamma Rho and Zeta Phi Beta – united for a voter initiative called “stroll to the polls.” Strolling is a tradition where Greek-letter members line dance in formation, typically at parties or step shows. Maisha Land, a member of AKA, supported her soror and combined the tradition of strolling with mobilizing voter registration. A slew of images and videos went viral and encouraged other NPHC members across the country to follow suit.
Dr. Glenda Glover, President of Tennessee State University and the International President and CEO of AKA, interviewed with CBS news in early November (last Thursday) and said that Harris’ acceptance speech gave her a feeling of pride.
“It’s a game changer for little girls – little Black girls, little Asian girls, little Indian girls,” Glover said. “The possibilities are unlimited.”