28 years ago – April 26, 1991, on the campus of sister-HBCU, West Virginia State College, I crossed the burning sands into Delta Land with eight amazing young women. We were “The 9 Jewels” in our beloved Sigma. I was #8 – Topaz. Holly Joy Gaines, Tishawa Campbell Howard, Maurita Parks, Sherry Reynolds Whitaker, Devon Toliver, Trina Woods DiJarnette, Sonja Parker, Miriam Page and I were now a part of an illustrious sisterhood of college-educated women who are committed to Sisterhood, Scholarship, and Service.
My choice to pledge Delta was informed by a commitment to civil rights, social justice, political action and a recognition that, as people of color, we have a responsibility to “reach back as we climb.”
The symbolism of the mighty elephant exudes strength and determination. The uplifted trunk represents high goals. The right foot forward represents forward movement. Lady Fortitude also symbolizes strength and determination, The outstretched hands represent the receipt of love and the giving of oneself to others. The statue pushes forward, the tension of her thigh representing her strength. She inspires women to move forcefully forward to meet life’s challenges. The delicate violet is individually lovely but collectively, in a group or bouquet, is even more vibrant and beautiful. The themes are powerful and embody the ideals I strive to exemplify. For me, there was no choice – I was destined to be a Delta Girl!
You see, the choice to join a sorority or a fraternity is an intensely personal choice. It is not merely about colors or letters. It should reflect a commitment to a set of ideals or principles and a recognition of the power of “we over me.” Young people desiring to pledge should consider the decision carefully – it is not a popularity contest or worse, a beauty contest. In the African American community, it is a lifetime commitment, not simply a college club.
Membership in a sorority or fraternity should not be painful – physically, mentally or emotionally. Those who believe suffering is a test of worthiness for membership are at best, misguided and at their worst, are an insult to all Greeks. To be sure, membership requires sacrifice and a subjugation of your individual needs for the good of the whole. It will push you beyond yourself but should not break your spirit or your skin and bones. I grieve for young people who are willing to sacrifice their physical and mental health to be “in the number.” That is not sisterhood – it’s abuse. You are not Sorors, you are survivors. There is a difference.
Regardless of your pledge process, you are a member of an organization that has the power to change the world for the better. Resolve to not simply wear paraphernalia, but to truly live the ideals that you committed to when you pledged. Commit to serve, to give back, to be a voice for the voiceless to be an advocate for those less fortunate and a beacon to the race.
Today, as I pause to pay tribute to our 22 Illustrious Founders, I am in awe of their vision, foresight and courage. I applaud them for following their hearts in search of a sisterhood that spoke more to their sense purpose and responsibility. Rather than simply “going along to get along,” they made the decision to strike out to re-define their vision for sisterhood. Their vision was not better, it was different. The truth is that no sorority is the best – it isn’t a competition. We are all sisters. Each has its own set of ideals and the goal should be to choose the best one for you.
I did that – I chose to be a high stepping, red wearing, socially conscious, politically active, Pyramid throwing, Oo-Ooping, Delta Girl! I made the right choice, the only choice for me.
Happy Founders Day to all my Sorors!
Dr. Roslyn Clark Artis is the 14th President of Benedict College.