The Rev. Dr. Gwendolyn E. Boyd has been on a special assignment—chairing the Centennial Celebrations of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, of which she has been a member for many years.
“It is truly a very high honor to put this celebration together,” Boyd told the AFRO.
But it was also a challenge: How do you capture 100 years of pioneering leadership, stalwart activism, scholarship and sisterhood?
“Celebrating 100 years…we knew one event would not be enough. We wanted to make sure we captured the essence of the organization,” Boyd said. “It certainly gave all of us an opportunity to stretch our imagination.”
What emerged was a series of events, in a months-long observance.
It began Jan. 1 with the launching of the Torch Tour, during which selected members of the sorority bore an Olympic-style torch to 22 cities across the United States and the world.
That same day, the group also made history by becoming the first African-American women’s organization and the first Greek-letter organization to sponsor a float in the 124th Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, Calif.
The sorority also held a Hollywood Gala, a media blitz of the major morning shows in New York and a Founders Day Weekend in Washington, D.C., among other activities. And, the celebration will culminate at the sorority’s 51st Annual Convention, which convenes in Washington, D.C., July 11-17.
While the gathering is a business meeting, where new leaders will be elected, it will also feature the penultimate commemorative festivities.
On July 11, the city will rename the street where the Deltas’ headquarters is located, New Hampshire Avenue, NW, in the sorority’s honor.
“We are honored that we have such tremendous support from the city’s leadership,” Boyd said.
The sorority will also dedicate a stained-glass window in the Howard University Chapel and other projects on the campus, the birthplace of the sorority.
Other events include a step show at Verizon Center; a revival service at the Convention Center, where Pastor Frederick Haynes, of the Friendship-West Baptist Church in Dallas, will preach; a Sunday morning worship service, at which Bishop Vashti Murphy McKenzie, the first female bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal denomination and descendant of Delta Sorority founder Vashti Turley Murphy, will give the word and a gospel concert featuring Yolanda Adams and Byron Cage on Sunday evening.
For many, however, it is the fellowship with other sorors that will bring the most reward.
“It’s more like a family reunion,” said Boyd.
Such sisterhood has defined the Deltas for 100 years, as has its fierce dedication to scholarship and service.
“The ... character of the organization and the vision of our founders is to give back to the community,” she said.
And that is what has made the organization thrive over so many decades.
“The women who join come with the intention to serve,” she said.
That kind of servant-leadership has defined her personal experience, said Boyd, who is emblematic of the organization’s membership, which include women who are well-educated, earn competitive incomes and maintain positions of influence and respect within the greater community.
Orphaned at 13, Boyd was raised by her godmother and nurtured by her community in Montgomery, Ala. She was one of five Black students to integrate Jefferson Davis High School, where she helped establish a student interracial council, was a member of the math honor society, and performed choir before graduating as valedictorian in 1973.
“There were many who encouraged me and pushed me to continue my education and to reach my potential,” she said. “I am that product that we want to see coming out of our communities.”
Boyd graduated summa cum laude from the historically Black Alabama State University in Montgomery with a degree in mathematics and minors in music and physics in 1977. She received a fellowship to attend Yale University's School of Engineering, becoming the school's first African- American woman to receive a master’s degree in mechanical engineering in 1979. Following her graduation, Boyd worked briefly as an engineer at IBM in Kingston, N.Y. In 1980, she was offered a position as a submarine navigation systems analyst at the Applied Physics Laboratory at Johns Hopkins University, and later filled several administrative positions, including her current job as the executive assistant to the chief of staff.
But Boyd’s passion is for service, and she said she has been “very intentional about rolling up [her] sleeve and being willing to give back.”
In 2000, Boyd was elected for a four-year term as the national president of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority after rising through the ranks since her college days. Boyd also serves on the board of directors of Leadership Greater Washington, the Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., Bennett College and the National Partnership for Community Leadership. She is a member of The Links, Inc., the National Council of Negro Women and Ebenezer A.M.E Church in Fort Washington, Md., where she serves on the ministerial staff.
“Congressman Shirley Chisholm [a Delta soror] said service is the rent you pay for being here,” Boyd said. “I want to make sure my rent is paid in full.”