Black Sorority Boom: Ninety Years after the First Group Was Founded, Membership and Enthusiasm Are Thriving

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Ninety years after first group was founded Membership and enthisiasm are thriving

LAST summer, the nation's oldest Black sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha, celebrated' its 90th anniversary with a huge confab in Chicago that was attended by more than 10,000 Black women. Elsewhere across the country, tens of thousands of beautiful Black women gathered in Atlanta for the Zeta Phi Beta conference and in Las Vegas for the Sigma Gamma Rho convention. In addition, the nation's largest Black sorority, Delta Sigma Theta, convened in New Orleans, where more than 12,000 members met to discuss and advance the organization's community service agenda.

At the same time, there is a rising tide of interest and enthusiasm for sororities on college campuses across the country. Female Greek-letter organizations were founded and thrived at predominantly Black colleges during segregation, but they expanded to other institutions in the '60s and '70s as Black students integrated other college campuses. Over the decades, the sororities have stood out among college organizations as leaders in community service.

At the summer conferences, student and more mature sorority members attended public forums, workshops and seminars addressing health care for the elderly and impoverished, teen pregnancy and drug abuse. There were also sessions on sexism and racism, conflict resolution and anger management, financial planning, careers and technology in the new millennium, among other pertinent issues. Participating in the conferences were national figures, including Labor Secretary Alexis Herman, Sen. Carol Moseley Braun, several members of Congress, Jesse Jackson Sr., the NAACP's Kweisi Mfume, and television show hosts-authors Tavis Smiley and Tony Brown.

With noble philanthropic missions and strong bonds of sisterhood, sorority members are demonstrating that collectively they have the state and progress of Black America at heart and that they wield enormous economic and political power. As the new century approaches, membership in the nation's four major sororities is booming, while at the same time the organizations are expanding their missions and outreach to even more Black Americans. They are also extending helping hands to Africa.

And the sororities' altruism is legendary. At its 1998 Chicago conference, the AKAs donated more than $120,000 to various Black organizations, colleges and universities as well as to some smaller groups. Each year, the AKAs donate $1.5 million to various charities.

While the perception persists that sorority women primarily are concerned with fashions and social events, the well-educated and kind-hearted members of Delta Sigma Theta, Alpha Kappa Alpha, Zeta Phi Beta and Sigma Gamma Rho pursue more substantive agendas.

Community outreach programs sponsored by the four groups include projects to fight teenage pregnancy and drug abuse, initiatives concerning health care, the elderly, economic empowerment, and preparing a new generation of young people to be competitive academically, psychologically and technologically in the next century. While the majority of sorority members are educators, their ranks also include physicians, elected officials, architects, artists, media executives, college presidents, business owners, corporate executives, attorneys and nurses, among women in various other professions.

The nation's oldest Black sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha, was founded at Howard University in 1908 by Ethel Hedgeman Lyle, who, like the founders of the other sororities, envisioned the organization as an instrument to enrich the social and intellectual aspects of college life for the increasing number of Black women students. Soon after its incorporation in 1913, the AKAs branched out and became a channel through which its college-trained members could work to improve the social and economic conditions of their communities and the nation. Today, AKA has more than 140,000 members. …