ORLANDO, Fla. – Black Greek organizations came into the spotlight after Kamala Harris became vice president.
Harris graduated from Howard University, a historically Black college, where she joined Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.
Her sorority is one of the nine organizations that make up the National Pan-Hellenic Council, also known as the Divine Nine.
After the Civil War ended, thousands of Black students began enrolling in colleges and universities.
Dr. Fon Gordon, associate history professor at the University of Central Florida, said although students were admitted into schools, Black students were deprived of the essential components of college life.
“Because of segregation, even though they were admitted to these schools, they didn’t have any social life or access to the notion of study groups,” Gordon said.
In the early 1900s, groups of Black college students rose above racial oppression and segregation to create a space for brotherhood and sisterhood among Black people on campus.
“What these organizations provided was social space, intellectual space, as well as a space for political mobilization,” Gordon said.
It all started in December 1906 with a group of Black men at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.
Alpha Phi Alpha was the first intercollegiate Greek organization created for African-American men.
The eight other organizations that were founded afterward were:
- Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.
- Kappa Alpha PSi Fraternity, Inc.
- Omega Psi Ph Fraternity, Inc.
- Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.
- Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc.
- Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc.
- Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc.
In 1930, the Black Greek organizations formed National Pan-Hellenic Council.
“We came up with the Divine Nine and said, ‘Hey, let’s put our energies together so we can make a more powerful impact on the world,” said Javanti Rogers, vice polemarch of the Orlando Alumni Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi.
The purpose of the Divine Nine is to unify the organizations and tackle problems of mutual interest.
“We work better in numbers (and) with numbers we’re able to affect more communities,” said Isis Williams, president of the Orlando Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta sorority.
The Divine Nine is active in Central Florida, with members saying they are committed to exercising activism, scholarship and service in their communities.
“Our impact to the community, I think, is priceless, and as long as we are here in Orlando, we will always serve Orlando and give back to our community,” said Georgia Martin, president of Metro Orlando NPHC.
Black Greek organizations are also known to step and stroll.
“There was a time when people thought sororities were just about stepping, but we do so much more,” Williams said.
Members of Black Greek organizations also emphasize education.
Last year, the NPHC of Metro Orlando executed a safe and socially distant Back-to-School Bash, providing school supplies to more than 300 students.
Martin said when they recognize community needs, they spring into action.
Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings is a member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc. He said members of the Divine Nine take on many roles in our community, whether that be as educators, law enforcement or other professions.
Demings added members of Greek Organizations are key parts of societal progression.
“Our goal is to make certain that we are visible to every boy or girl that may look like us or who don’t look like us, but are looking to see good, quality role models in their community,” Demings said.
NPHC members, like Williams, acknowledge the newfound recognition this year but say they do not serve communities for praise.
“We’re doing things whether we’re in the scene or out of the scene, we’re still there to effect change,” she said.
Although life in a Black Greek organization can start in college, it does not have to end there.
After graduation, Divine Nine members often transition into alumni chapters, with members continuing the work they began in school while maximizing sisterhood and brotherhood.
Reflecting on Harris’ election, Orlando NPHC members said it is amazing to see how much they have changed society since their founding. However, members say there is so much more work to be done.