Pledging: The roots of Black fraternities and sororities

Black History Month

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Amid the racial divide and civil unrest in America, Black men and women created social organizations to give their community at least one place to call home.

They’re known as Black Greek letter organizations. They were established starting in the early 1900s and continue to uplift the Black community.

“It’s beautiful,” Duane Lewis, member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., said. “It’s a beautiful thing.”

Lewis pledged the Iota Epsilon chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. at Grand Valley State University almost three years ago.

Founded at Cornell University in 1906, Alpha Phi Alpha was the first ever Black intercollegiate fraternity.

“We were birthed because our people had nowhere else to lean on or lean towards,” Lewis said.

“It really gave us a sense of belonging, a family,” agreed Jacquie Harris, member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.

That family is called the Divine 9. The number represents all nine Black Greek letter organizations that center on service and unity, like Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., the first Black sorority.

“Another exciting piece about being a member is seeing all the strong Black women who have just like excelled in their careers and just their lives,” Harris said.

Some of those women include Vice President Kamala Harris, civil rights pioneer Coretta Scott King and NASA’s Katherine Johnson, to whom President Barack Obama awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

“We really want our focus to be on what we do for the community,” Harris said.

Same goes for the women of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.

“After we were founded, our first public service act was participating in the Women’s Suffrage March,” member Mia Gutridge said.

Like other members of the Divine 9, Omega Psi Phi was founded on community but distinguished itself with signs, chants, marches and handshakes that only members would know.

“A lot of stuff stems from us saying, ‘Hey, we have something that we put together that we’ve grown to be able to do together, and now we can share that going forward,'” Lee Moyer, member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc., said.

Members of the Divine 9 are more alike than they are different.

“No matter what is thrown at us, we will always rise to the occasion,” Gutridge said.

They use that same strength and that same resilience to uplift the Black community.

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