Nearly 1,000 women, dressed in white and adorned with pearls, gathered at the Bethesda North Marriott Hotel and Conference Center to celebrate the 106th Founders Day of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority.

The AKAs spent the day reflecting on their rich history and the brave young women who gathered at Howard University under the guidance of Ethel Hedgeman Lyle on January 15, 1908 to start the sorority whose mission is to be a voice for the voiceless and a beacon of light in their communities.

Linda H. Gilliam, the AKA’s mid-Atlantic regional director, noted that only 50 years had passed between the end of slavery and the time a group of Black college-educated women set out to change the world, one service project at a time.

During Metropolitan Founders’ Day, many of the women spoke of the urgent need for services in their communities and their commitment to educate, empower and inform a generation of young women blessed with access despite having limited historical grounding.

As the Rev. Adriane Lara Blair Wise, the keynote speaker, took the podium, she gently guided her audience into a moment of reflection. She started by questioning the audacity of their founders to think that they could change the world around them, but noted that others often consider pioneers a little odd.

Wise quoted the late Steve Jobs, saying “You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things… They push the human race forward.”

Wise challenged her audience to examine the rate of illiteracy, children born to single mothers and what she characterized as the moral decay that is eating away at our communities, across all generations.

“Never before have we lived in such uncertain times, and never before has your call been greater,” she said.

Leslie Lyles Smith, chairman of the 2014 Metropolitan Founder’s Day, said sorority members set an example for her.

“My neighbors were AKAs. They were classy, smart and always working in the community,” she said.

Mia Alexander-Davis

Special to the AFRO