COURTESY ERIC MACKIE
COURTESY ERIC MACKIE

The Divine Nine — a group of nationwide historically black fraternities and sororities — have a rich history. For some, that history began in the District. In fact, five of the Divine Nine were founded at Howard University, a creation story that still shapes their vibrant culture today.

But on the Hilltop, historically black fraternities and sororities are often overlooked. The reasons for this lack of attention vary from their unique structure to low visibility. But in fact, Georgetown is home to two sorority chapters — Delta Sigma Theta and Alpha Kappa Alpha — and three fraternity chapters — Alpha Phi Alpha, Omega Psi Phi and Kappa Alpha Psi.

Not every Georgetown student may be familiar with their names, let alone their impact. But these historically black fraternities and sororities are a force to be reckoned with — not least to each other.

“I think the biggest thing is being part of Greek life at large, part of a historically black fraternity and sorority; even though you’re my rival organization, I still respect what you believe and what you’ve had to do to become an organization” Brandon Floyd (NHS ’13), a Kappa brother said. As a result of this friendly competition, each sorority and fraternity also has a stereotype associated with it — whether or not the members believe it.

“The stereotype is probably true: intellectual, 21st-century black man. We’re known for being leaders,” Alpha Phi Alpha member Eric Mackie (COL ’11) said. The black and gold Alphas were the first Greek fraternity established for African-American students when they were founded at Cornell University in 1906. Georgetown’s chapter of the fraternity, Nu Beta, was charted in 1977, along with those at American University, Catholic University and The George Washington University. Originally intended to “supply vision to the struggle of African-Americans and of people of color around the world,” today’s Alphas focus on the notions of scholarship, fellowship, good character and uplifting humanity.

A little closer to campus, the “alpha,” or first, chapter of the Omega Psi Phi fraternity was founded at Howard University in 1911. Although the oldest historically black fraternity in the District, the Omegas only found a home on the Hilltop in 2008. Georgetown’s chapter, Delta Theta, touts “friendship is essential to the soul” as its motto, according to fraternity President Ross Anderson (COL ’11).

Anderson typified his brothers as “cherishing the cardinal principles, high achieving, committed, highly responsible men of strong moral principles.” They are typical Omegas. Above all else, they are a bonded group. As Anderson explains, “stereotypes can be created in ignorance, without taking the time to get to know members.”

2011 marks the centennial of the Omegas’ founding. But they are not the only ones; Kappa Alpha Psi was formed 100 years ago at Indiana University. The fraternity was originally founded in an effort to better the African-American college experience amid a social backdrop of racism.

Today, their motto, “achievement in every human endeavor,” encapsulates the mission of the fraternity, brother Justin Thomas (MSB ’11) said. The D.C. chapter of Kappa Chi was founded in September 1981, comprising both Georgetown and American University students. Brothers can be picked out of a crowd for sporting the colors of crimson and cream. But that is hardly their only distinguishing factor. Brothers say they keep it all in balance: “You’ll see Kappas at a party, but we’ll be studying in Lau the next day,” Floyd said.

But fraternities are not the only ones leaving their mark. As the largest historically black sorority, Delta Sigma Theta emphasizes sisterhood, scholarship and service as the pillars of the sorority experience. The crimson and cream sisters did not include Georgetown women until 1996, however — a full 83 years after the Delta chapter’s 1913 founding at Howard University. While Kelcee Connor (COL ’11) said people can think of members as “chill-home girl”  types, Danielle Bailey (MSB ’12) described the typical Delta differently: “A well-rounded person, she carries herself well — but it’s not about image. It’s about having something to back that up.”

Alpha Kappa Alpha was also founded at Howard, albeit a little earlier, in 1908. One of the key aspects of the sorority, according to chapter President Nicole Jackson (COL ’11) is that AKAs attempt to embody “service for all mankind” every day. When asked about the AKAs’ perception, she said, “We’re typically associated with being stuck-up and prissy, and some people do go with the stereotypes, but you really won’t know until you talk to someone.” In 1989, the distinct salmon pink and apple green became a part of Georgetown, Catholic and Trinity Universities through the Omicron Pi chapter.

NOTABLE OMEGAS INCLUDE Michael Jordan, Langston Hughes and Jesse Jackson, while some Alphas are Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Duke Ellington and Thurgood Marshall.  Kappa Alpha Psis are famous for their “firsts”: Bernard A. Harris was the first African-American astronaut, and George Taliaferro was the first African-American drafted by the NFL.

“The people before you set the precedent, within this chapter, there’s been a real tradition of excellence and this creates big shoes to fill,” Amadou Sow (MSB ’11) said of the Alpha Phi Alpha Nu Betas.

The sororities boast impressive alumni as well, with Delta Shirley Chisholm, the first African-American woman elected to Congress, and Kappa author Toni Morrison.

The fraternities and sororities were all founded during a period of intense racism and discrimination. Thus, a cultural heritage and pride augment each organization’s push for excellence. “No one really knew how to succeed in society, how to break out of the cyclical effect of racism, but through uniting together, they were able to,” Floyd said. For others, these racial ties are not as significant. “It’s not about color anymore, just social class,” Thomas said.

But that’s not all that sets them apart. One key aspect of the District’s historically black Greek life is its interconnectedness. As all of the fraternities and sororities are not chartered solely at Georgetown, the connections between multiple universities cultivate a sense of larger unity.

Having fellow members at various schools widens the Greek perspective, according to Connor. “It’s always about being part of something larger than yourself, it doesn’t end anywhere.”

And the connections don’t stop there. “The amount of people we’ve met outside of Georgetown is really outstanding, even outside of D.C.,” Ashia Boyce (NHS ’12) said. Traveling to different schools for events, hanging out with brothers or sisters all over the District and traveling for community service events all widen the span of the Greek experience. Thomas observed that “the more people you know, the more fun you have, the more opportunities you have to do different things and that’s just the social aspect of it.”

This expanded network is not only a social benefit. With brothers all over the city, including alumni members, Sow said that the connections “[have] definitely shaped my experience in ways I didn’t foresee beforehand. Not only on the social end, but on the academic and professional end, it expands your network a lot.”

WHILE THE BLACK GREEK LIFE is certainly distinctive, there’s a common denominator to life in all sororities and fraternities: the emphasis on the social scene. Even so, social life in these sororities and fraternities doesn’t just mean mixers and potluck dinners, as events take a whole range of forms, from speed dating to a city-wide Step Show to networking events to Greek weeks. Founders’ days are also a rallying point for fraternities and sororities, as they bridge the gap between social events and charitable functions. The Miss Black and Gold Pageant, put on by Alpha Phi Alphas, awards the winner with a $1,500 scholarship. “[It’s] a celebration of black beauty, black talent and the black female” Mackie said.

Community service also represents a large part of the Greek experience. Each Greek organization focuses on different causes and initiatives, carrying out projects and making a difference along the way. Connor eagerly described her favorite Delta event, assisting with an elderly bingo game at Delta Towers, a retirement and nursing home originally funded by the Delta Sigma Thetas.

The Alpha Kappa Alphas have a different approach, opting to narrow their focus on certain platforms that change every four years; the next four years’ issues are the well-being of middle school girls, health initiatives for asthma and AIDS, global poverty and human trafficking.

Many of these fraternities and sororities are involved with mentoring programs designed to encourage high school students to go to college. The idea is to “show them that it is a culture they can become a part of,” Mackie stated.

The Alpha Phi Alphas also nationally emphasize the “A Voteless People is a Hopeless People” campaign, working to register voters and get them out to the polls. The groups also take on unique projects, like the environmentally green housing remodel that Kappa Alpha Psi has participated in. And for large-scale impact, the Kappa s, for example, is part of the Million Dollar club and has donated more than that amount to their designated recipient, St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital.

When asked what their favorite aspect of the Greek experience is, sisters and brothers often responded that the familial bond was the best part of being in the Greek system. “Being able to share a commonality with someone who you know nothing about, instantly when you meet them it’s as if they are a good friend of yours. … It’s kind of hard to explain, but it’s as if we’re family,” Floyd said.

This devotion signifies a bond of the greatest intensity, one where “a lot of times you will give your last dime to a brother in need,” Floyd said. Mackie agreed. “The brotherhood has meant the most to me, as I didn’t have a sense of brotherhood at Georgetown before joining the fraternity. It’s special being around a group of educated black men.”

For these fraternities and sororities, the commitment doesn’t end in college. Rather, it is a lifelong dedication. “The biggest difference between historically black frats and sororities is that it’s a lifelong commitment, you’ll always be proud of your affiliation,” Floyd said.   Anderson reaffirmed this idea, saying “It’s a lifelong bond, it something across schools, across cities, across cultures.”

For these on-campus and District-wide families, a sense of energy and excitement takes hold.

“Since it’s an organization that’s not open to everyone, it’s an honor and a privilege to be in it, a huge accomplishment. It’s something that I want people to know, something I’m proud of,” Mackie said. And their experiences in black Greek life will stay with them long after they leave the Hilltop. “I’m confident that it will always be something that will shape my identity,” Anderson said.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*