The lighting of an Olympic-style torch at Howard University on July 11 will launch the 51st National Convention of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc., part of a year-long celebration of the group’s 100-year legacy of Black sisterhood, advocacy and service.

The last two stops for the Torch will be Baltimore Harbor on July 5 when it arrives on a flotilla  launching a weekend of activities hosted by Baltimore and Annapolis chapters including a STEM Celebration, Dr Thelma T. Daley Scholarship Awards Program, and Maryland Chapters Past Presidents Celebration being held at Morgan State University.

On July 6 the celebration begins with a Welcome to Annapolis Event at the city dock in front of the Alex Haley Statue, a tour of the Maryland Capitol followed by a brunch at the Bates Legacy Center visiting the educational roots of Dr. Daley.  The weekend activities culminate that evening at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum in Batlimore where the 16th National President ceremoniously ends the 22 city Torch tour.

Beginning Jan. 1, the group has memorialized its founding with an historic participation in the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, Calif.; a Delta Torch Tour across 22 cities; a Hollywood gala; Centennial Founders Day Weekend and a reenactment of the Women’s Suffrage March, among other activities.

And, from July 11-17, Washington, D.C., and the surrounding areas will be awash in hues of crimson and cream as thousands of the sorority’s 250,000 initiated members, who represent over 900 chapters in the United States, the Bahamas, Bermuda, Germany, Jamaica, Japan, the Republic of Korea and the U.S. Virgin Islands, join with invited guests and other well-wishers for the centennial festivities.

“This is not only a momentous occasion for our organization, but a testament to the power of all women determined to change the world for the better and be a voice for the underprivileged and underserved,” said National President Cynthia M.A. Butler-McIntyre in a statement. “The accomplishments of Delta Sigma Theta over the past 100 years give us many reasons to be thankful and require us to pause to pay tribute to our founders, past leadership, and all those who have helped us along our journey.”

“One year of celebrating those successes may not be long enough to honor those who came before us,” she added. “It will take a lifetime to truly give them and our founders the honor they deserve.”

The biennial conference will convene under the sorority’s theme of the past two years, “Delta Sigma Theta- A Sisterhood Called to Serve: Transforming Lives, Impacting Communities.”

The sorors will fête and be fêted at celebratory events such as Deltas on the National Mall, welcome receptions and concerts.

However, much of the time will be taken up in tackling some of the serious concerns of the service organization, which in 2003 became the first Greek-letter organization to attain special consultative status as a non-governmental organization (NGO) for the United Nations. Members will address issues related to the socioeconomic conditions impacting communities across the globe, especially the African diaspora. They will also discuss the physical and mental health challenges that continue to plague children and adults worldwide. And, the organization will continue its legacy of promoting political awareness and involvement through voter education, advocacy for health care reform and equal educational opportunities among other concerns.

During a social action luncheon earlier this year, Congressional Black Caucus Chair Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, a past president of the sorority, warned that despite the successes of the past 10 decades, there is much more work to be done, particularly in light of the recent civil rights challenges that threaten the welfare of African Americans and other marginalized communities.

“We cannot celebrate before the game is over,” she said as quoted in the organization’s recent newsletter. “As long as we live, we must do everything we can to make a difference.”

Despite claims that the United States is a “post-racial” society, Rep. Fudge added, there are many Blacks in rural and urban communities who are still struggling with overt and covert discrimination.

“Although the struggle for civil rights is different, the battle is not over,” Fudge said. “We are no longer being attacked by canines or sprayed with water hoses but, many of the things happening today are just as bad, just under a different name.

“…Some of those names are debt/deficit reduction and sequestration that come at the cost of seniors, the education of children, voting rights and affirmative action.”

On Jan. 13, 1913, 22 women at Howard University founded the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority during a time of great tribulation for African Americans: the gains of Reconstruction had been whittled away, sapping away Blacks’ political and economic strength; Jim Crow had begun to cast its dark shadow across the nation; Black men and women were being lynched by the dozens and Black women were still not allowed to vote.

Those 22 founders responded by promoting academic excellence as a way out of debilitating ignorance and poverty, meeting the needs of the underprivileged and joining the Women’s Suffrage March in Washington, D.C., in March 1913 among other actions.

That’s the kind of pioneering, get-up-and-go spirit that needs to be maintained today, Rep. Fudge said at the same event which honored the sorority’s founders.

“It is critical to the success of this nation and the welfare of its people now and during the next 100 years to remain relevant as individuals and as organizations. We must evolve,” the sorority member said. “Let’s be more than we can be.”


Zenitha Prince

Special to the AFRO