She may be an Omega Sweetheart or the dream girl of A-Phi-A. She may wear a Kappa diamond, or her love may a Sigma be; but if she wears the Delta symbol, then her first love is DST. These words symbolize my first encounter with Greek life as an undergraduate student at Tennessee State University. As a young woman from a small suburb of Cincinnati, Ohio, I knew very little about Black Greek organizations (with the exception of my godmother being an AKA) and did not have a clear understanding of what Greek life entailed.
During the first couple of days of new student orientation, there was excitement radiating from my classmates as to which organization they desired to join and what their plans were when they became members. As for myself, I did not know where to begin. Questions began to race through my head. Should I get as excited as my classmates? Should I go and greet the women that I heard singing? Should I reject this Greek notion and focus solely on my academics; that is why I am here, right? As these questions surfaced, I began to confuse myself even more because I really did not have much background knowledge about Greek life on which to base my decision. As you are reading this article, you may be in a similar situation, or you may come from a long line of Greek members in your family. Whatever the case, it is my desire to provide you with a crash course regarding some of the basics of Black Greek Letter Organizations (BGLOs).
Why were Black Greek Letter Organizations founded?
First and foremost, it is important for you to understand why these organizations exist. During the time in which the first BGLO was established, African Americans across the country were faced with the harsh realities of race-related discrimination. Repercussions from slavery were well saturated in the fabric of the American culture, and due to situations resulting from these discriminatory practices, various organizations established by the African American community began to surface and some of them were Black Greek Letter Organizations. Since 1906—the founding year of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.—nine fraternities and sororities (affectionately known as the Divine Nine) have had the privilege of developing and establishing chapters throughout the United States and the world. These organizations provided a common ground for a common purpose. The establishment of these brotherhoods and sisterhoods brought together men and women who were passionate about the goals and ideals of their organization and made a commitment to work together to make a difference in the world in which they lived.
What is the purpose of these organizations?
If you were to research the initiatives of each Black Greek Letter Organization, you would discover programs ranging from voter registration drives and economic empowerment programs to campus clean-up initiatives and beyond. Underneath the surface of most nationally recognized activities implemented by these organizations lies the desire to enhance the local and international community. Community service plays a significant role in the foundation of all BGLOs. For example, the first public service initiative completed by the newly founded Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. was the 1913 Women’s Suffrage March in Washington, DC. Members of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc. also showed a unique interest in women’s rights during the early stages of their organization’s existence. Early interests of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc., founded in 1914, also heavily focused on the enhancement of the world in which we live. Their interests included anti-lynching laws and international issues occurring in the Republic of Haiti. As you can see, the scope of these organizations does not solely lie on each respective college or university campus, and their impact is evident worldwide.
What are the benefits of joining a Black Greek Letter Organization?
By reading this article, it shows that either you or someone you know is interested not only in Black Greek Letter Organizations but also in learning more about attending college. Just by attending college, you will have the world at your disposal. There are so many opportunities that can arise from just stepping foot into a classroom. Imagine the experiences and knowledge that each person brings with them and consider the opportunities that lie before each student after graduation.
The benefits of joining a BGLO are endless. For many, one of the greatest benefits is the opportunity to network. Networking is essential in today’s society. Now consider being a member of a BGLO. All BGLOs have at least 100,000 members worldwide. Instantly, that classroom of 25 grows. Membership provides a common bond not only among fraternity brothers or sorors, but also within the Greek community as a whole. Even more important than networking is having the ability to serve your community in the name of your organization. There is power in numbers, and when the world has the opportunity to witness a group of individuals working together for the common good of the community, more and more people will want to become involved. This is one reason that the legacies of Black Greek Organizations have continued over so many years.
There is also a social advantage to becoming Greek. I am sure that you have heard numerous times that the most important thing to get out of your college experience is a quality education, and I agree. However, you should also take time to enjoy yourself. Becoming involved in organizations on campus can help you to gain a greater sense of ownership of your college or university. So, if you think Greek life may be something you are interested in, check it out; I am certain that you will cherish your experiences in the organization for the rest of your life.
How do I know which Black Greek Letter Organization to join?
Research! Research! Research! It is very important that you know what you are getting yourself into when you decide to join anything. Although all BGLOs have similar missions, there are many aspects that make them unique. I would encourage you to observe how various Greek organizations interact on your campus among themselves and with other campus organizations; however, do not solely base your decision on observation alone. Read their national Web sites and read books published about the organization(s). Once you have done your research and feel that you are comfortable with the information that you have learned, begin narrowing your options. Attend events sponsored by the organization(s) so that you will have the opportunity to interact with members on your campus; it is important that they know who you are in order for them to feel comfortable to vote you into their organization. Remember, these are individuals that you are likely to spend a lot of time with during your membership intake process and beyond, so make sure that you have examined all sides before making your final commitment to one organization. As women in my beloved sorority often state, “Membership is a lifetime commitment!”
All BGLOs require that you be a student with a good academic standing. Therefore, acquiring a quality education should be a priority over making a commitment to become a member of a Greek organization. Those who came before you left large shoes to fill; it is up to you to carry on the legacy that these individuals have begun.