By Chanelle Bell and Ashley Chambers
Carolyn House Stewart (top, right) is the 28th International President of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority. Photos and collage by Adam L. Turner.
Over 10,000 members of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. (AKA) attended the organization’s international convention July 21-27 in San Francisco – its 65th Boulé – honoring unsung women heroes of the Civil Rights Movement and the spirit of community service for which the AKA is known.
Founded in 1908 by 16 women at Howard University in Washington, D.C., the sorority has an international membership of 260,000, with members across the U.S., the U.S. Virgin Islands, Bermuda, Bahamas, Canada, Japan, Germany, South Korea and in Africa.
In her remarks, International President Carolyn House Stewart heralded the historic contributions to equal rights made by AKA women.
“These pioneers marched, sat in, participated in non-violent demonstrations, fought for equal pay, human rights and social justice lawsuits and initiatives – all to knock down barriers, overcome exclusion and exploitation, eliminate the color bar, stand up to Jim Crow and fight the many battles for 20th and 21st Century equality,” she said at the convention, held at the Moscone Center.
AKA heroines, celebrated in a museum exhibit at the convention, included sorors Rosa Parks and Coretta Scott King, poet Maya Angelou, author Toni Morrison, and Mae C. Jemison, the first Black woman to travel in space.
Rev. Dr. Bernice King, daughter of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King, attended the opening.
“The first person who faced the real manifestations of the threats they lived under was my mother. Her demeanor, her commitment level, her sacrifice, in many regards made the difference in whether (Dr. King) continued on or not,” Rev. King said.
Awards were given to honorees whose lives and entrepreneurial efforts were devoted to public service. Among those who were recognized were NAACP Chairman Roslyn M. Brock; Harry E. Johnson, Sr., who led the successful campaign to build the King Memorial on the National Mall; Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency Lisa Jackson; actor and comedian Cedric “The Entertainer”; Nigeria’s Minister of Petroleum Resources Diezani Allison-Madueke; and founder of “Black Girls Rock” Beverly Bond.
Local AKA leaders described the service initiatives their chapters are undertaking.
Robin Thomas, president of the Alpha Nu Omega chapter that serves the Berkeley-Oakland Bay Area community, has been part of AKA since 1977 when she was a student at Howard University.
Thomas and her chapter have been working to make a difference in Bay Area communities. “We have several community services and a slew of health initiatives,” she said.
The chapter also works in Richmond where members participate in the Richmond Greenway Project, which transforms abandoned railroad property into a green space for community use.
Alpha Nu Omega also has programs for Bay Area youth. “We work with the young ladies at Alameda County Juvenile Hall,” Thomas said. “We provide reading and help them make better life decisions.”
The chapter is currently starting an emerging young leaders program for girls in the 6th – 8th grade.
Sonya Simril, principal at Saint Leo the Great Catholic School in Oakland, has been a member of the Alpha Nu Omega chapter for over 20 years.
“We have adopted the Prescott Elementary School in West Oakland,” said Simril, explaining that the chapter started a reading program at Prescott and supports the school’s 5th grade graduation.
“It is important to give back to our own community,” she said.
For more information, visit www.aka1908.org.