TV One’s Roland Martin hosted a panel to address the role of social activism and historically Black sororities and fraternities during the recent Alpha Phi Alpha 94th General Convention. Some 4,000 members gathered in Baltimore during the July 12-17 event.
Broadcasting live from the convention, Martin led the discussion on the disconnect between social activism and the nation’s nine Black Greek groups, collectively known as the “Divine Nine.”
The TV One’s managing editor, who is a member of Alpha Phi Alpha, pointed out that there are more than two million members between the nine organizations, and that the level of infrastructure does not match up with the amount of social activism and power that can be leveraged among its members.
“When we saw the 14-year-old girl in Texas, head slammed to the ground by a police officer, I challenged sororities saying ‘You got to say something!’ she doesn’t have to be a member to say something,” said Martin. Sandra Bland – she was a member of Sigma Gamma Rho [but] every sorority and fraternity should have been outraged – and it shouldn’t have to be a press release that comes out a week after it actually has taken place.”
Jeff Johnson, author and fellow member of Alpha Phi Alpha, agreed, saying that the “tribal nature” of the Divine Nine, in only focusing on their own work, is a disadvantage to ensuring success across all nine organizations.
“I don’t think we’ve used our money the right way. We come to conventions and leave without legitimate strategies, without legitimate plans, without pushing that money into infrastructure that actually transforms,” says Johnson. “There’s a real opportunity for the Divine Nine to say, ‘What are the nine things we do great, and how do we support each organization doing something great as opposed to duplicating services?’
“If we were really a collective, there would be nothing to stop us and we could really create change not only at the local level but there would be a model of national leadership that the divine nine can provide that I don’t think any other institutions in our community currently have the capacity to provide.”
Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, President and CEO of the Center for Global Policy Solutions and member of Delta Sigma Theta sorority, stated that some members choose to stay silent out of fear of losing their non-profit status, which only counters that they must be non-partisan and not publicly endorse any candidates running for public office.
“You can protest, you can educate policymakers – you can do a lot. Because people don’t understand that, they’re paralyzed,” said Cummings. “A 501©3 nonprofit–you’re supposed to be nonpartisan. You can’t endorse a candidate, you can’t endorse legislation, but you can do anything else.”
Alpha Phi Alpha National President Dr. Everett Ward agreed, saying that coming together with a collective agenda is key to the foundation of each organization and for being of service to the general public.
“We said that [the convention’s theme] “The Urgency of Now” requires that we come together and deal with the issues that are impacting the African-American community. We’ve got to use our infrastructure, we’ve got to use our financial resources as a Divine Nine to do everything we can to make a change and provide solutions.”
Ward, who is also the president of Historically Black Saint Augustine’s University in Richmond, also discussed the importance of supporting HBCUs.
“You can’t blame anyone else for not supporting your institution if you don’t do it yourself,” said Ward, who is also an alum of the school.
“Scholarship funds – emergency funds to help students. That’s what we need people to do. And if you’re not part of an historically Black college, adopt one. [If not] for the historically Black college, none of … the Divine Nine would not be here today.”