By Cynthia Yeldell Anderson
In her historic speech accepting the vice presidential nomination for the Democratic party, Sen. Kamala Harris introduced her family — among them her beloved Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, “The Divine Nine” and others from historically Black colleges and universities.
The California Democrat’s shout-out echoed worldwide.
As the first HBCU graduate and the first member of a historically Black greek letter organization named to a major party ticket, Harris’ nomination has created a groundswell of enthusiasm among Black greek member organizations whose combined membership exceeds two million globally.
Carla Mannings is the chief business development officer at Partners for the Common Good. She united with a group of sorority sisters to watch Harris’ speech at the Democratic National Convention on Aug. 20. “There is a level of excitement that I’ve never seen,” she said.
Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. is a member of the National Pan-Hellenic Council, which represents eight other predominately Black greek letter organizations: Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc., Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc., Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc., Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc., Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc., Iota Phi Theta Fraternity, Inc. Affectionately known as “The Divine Nine,” each has graduate and undergraduate chapters in the U.S. and abroad.
Since Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden announced Harris as his running mate, social media has been filled with support.
“Kappa Alpha Psi is definitely behind her, she has our vote,” said member Randall C. Pippen Jr., who attended Howard University with Harris and served with her on student government there. “I’ve talked to Omegas and Deltas who support her, and Deltas have shared the social-media post of ‘Deltas for Kamala.’ The support is across the board.”
Many prominent Black political figures and civil-rights leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr., (Alpha Phi Alpha), the Rev. Jessie Jackson (Omega Psi Phi) and Shirley Chisholm (Delta Sigma Theta), were or are members of the Divine Nine.
“As a proud member of the Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc., which is the fraternity of John Lewis, James Weldon Johnson, Rev. Al Sharpton and many others, we are grateful for all the members of the Divine Nine Black Fraternities and Sororities who are overjoyed by the nomination of Kamala Harris for the office of Vice President of the United States of America,” said Ben Chavis, CEO of the National Newspaper Publishers Association.
But Harris is the first Black sorority member to be a VP nominee for a major party ticket.
“It’s clearly a historic moment,” said Everett B. Ward, president, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc., on behalf of the nine NPHC presidents. Sen. Harris represents the high standards of public service and leadership that define members of the National Pan Hellenic Council, he said.
“All of our organizations, prior to Sen. Harris’ nomination, historically have been involved in voter registration, voter education and advancing public policy that involves African Americans,” Ward said. “The nomination underscores the importance for our organizations to continue promoting voter engagement and voter education. We are committed to protecting the right to vote for all citizens, especially when there are organized efforts to suppress the Black vote.”
The Divine Nine experience doesn’t end after college. Volunteerism, community service, advocacy work, social gatherings, mentoring programs and strong bonds are sustained throughout adulthood. Members wear their respective fraternity or sorority colors with pride.
“Once you become a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, you’re always a member,” Mannings said. “We are about serving the community.”
Divine Nine member organizations, along with graduates and students across the country, also take pride in the fact that Harris is a graduate of a HBCU.
“Her selection is a nod to the excellence that comes out of HBCUs,” said Inez Brown, who attended Howard University and pledged Alpha Kappa Alpha with Harris. “Often, people think HBCUs are not up to the same standards as predominantly white institutions and it’s absolutely not true. Statistics will tell you the most successful people in business, in finance and in different areas are products of HBCUs.”
Pippen said Harris was a member of the debate team and student government during their college years.
She volunteered for community service events with Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity and was active in social-justice issues on campus, such as protesting against apartheid, Mannings said.
For sorority sister Jill Louis, a Dallas attorney, Harris’ nomination has a higher purpose: She has been selected for a mission to rescue democracy.
“For us, it’s a bigger cause,” says Louis. “We are looking to galvanize the entirety of the Divine Nine and all members of HBCUs across the country.”
Kalyn Womack contributed to this report. Edited by Fern Siegel and Matt Rasnic.