By Aaron Allen
Engaging in community service provides people with the opportunity to become active members of their community and provides a lasting, positive impact on society at large. Community service or volunteerism enables people to acquire life skills and knowledge, as well as provide a service to those who need it most.
After reconstruction the foundation of the Black community was the church. It was and still is the place where community service was instrumental in the survival and maintenance of the Black community.
At the turn of the century as ex-slaves began to establish themselves as citizens, education opened the door to opportunity for the descendants of Africa. On college campuses across the country, fraternities and sororities like the church was a mechanism for Black people to organize themselves in providing college support systems for students of color, community services and civil rights to the collective.
Now as much as each fraternity and sorority loves to claim prominence the first Black Fraternal organization was the Prince Hall Freemasonry established in 1775.
Greek letter sorority and fraternal organizations and their commitment to community service are embedded in the fabric of Black life. They provide our community a path for natural born leaders and those who aspire to be leaders to exercise and strengthen their talents for the betterment of their people.
According to Aubrey Scott, President of Seattle Alumni Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, “the assets of the Fraternity are the brothers who are committed to giving back to their communities and this provides a significant impact on our community at-large.”
Several fraternal organizations were established but failed after the Prince Hall Freemasonry until 1905. Organizations such as Alpha Kappa Nu and Gamma Phi folded as they were unable to establish other chapters. Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity founded at Cornell University in 1906 was the first to successfully charter chapters on other campuses across the country that still exists to this day.
In addition to Alpha Phi Alpha, several other organizations founded in the early part of the 20th century have endured the test of time and continue to serve our community in a number of ways. Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity was founded at Indiana University January 5, 1911. Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority founded on January 15, 1908; Delta Sigma Theta Sorority founded on January 13, 1913; Omega Psi Phi Fraternity founded on November 17, 1911; Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity founded on January 9, 1914; and Zeta Phi Beta Sorority founded in 1920 all claim their roots at Howard University. Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority was founded November 12, 1922 on the campus of Butler University.
The Iota’s Iota Phi Theta, the fraternal organization was founded at Morgan State University in 1963 and Iota Phi Lambda, the Sorority a business Greek letter organization was founded in Chicago June 1, 1929.
Achievement, service and leadership are the pillars in which Black sororities and fraternities build their fundamentals around. These are three things that are a common thread through all of them. But giving back to the community by establishing a culture of service to humanity has been the primary purpose of all Greek organizations.
Phi Beta Sigma’s adoption programs, “Adopt A Street”, “Adopt A Family” and “Adopt A School” programs all embody the community service spirit in providing opportunity and resources to those in need as well as taking responsibility for the physical upkeep of their community.
“We provide a culture for service and service to humanity,” says Julian Heyward, President of Seattle Alumni Chapter of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity. “Community service to the men of Phi Beta Sigma along with brotherhood engagement in that service is what we do.”
The other attribute that distinguishes these entities is the bond of brotherhood and sisterhood. The unity that derives out of the experience enhances the diversity in human energy towards providing an altruistic service helping to make for a more secure and productive community.
Although each organization possesses their own cultures, colors and traditions they all have in common the ideals of achievement and service to humanity and through community service programs. Each organization offers its members commitment to servicing humanity and the betterment in particular of the Black community.
Historically, Black women and sororities have always been at the forefront of social engineering and change. Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, the first Greek letter organization for Black women, has utilized the strengths and talents of its members since its founding in 1908 to help better our community. The women of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority engage in their own unique contributions through progressive and aggressive fundraising in their HBCU for Life: A call to Action Fundraiser. They are also very active in caregiver support through Caregivers Awareness, helping adult children and siblings as they become caregivers for their parents. They also help nurture youth through their C.A.P. (College Access Preparedness) program.
Brenda Vasser, President of the Seattle Alumnae Chapter shares how the role and rich history of community service plays out in Alpha Kappa Alpha,
“To be of service to mankind, promote unity and scholastic and ethical standards, we have been doing this for 110 years,” says Vasser.
“How we give back has changed, but what has not changed is that we give back,” explains Vasser who has been an active member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority since 1979.
Kappa Alpha Psi has a number of programs that they focus on throughout the year, like their Kappa League/Guide Right mentorship program that they utilize to help empower young men. They also partner with N.O.B.L.E. (National Organization of Black Law Enforcement) on a national program called Learn to Live which educates young people and the community on better police and community relationships. They also couple with local churches to raise money for St. Jude in their “Day of Caring” Program.
Kappa Alpha Psi works collectively to manifest their visions of community service and the brotherhood plays an essential part in their efforts as President Scott of the Seattle reiterates.
“Kappa men collectively uniting and giving back to their communities, willing to sacrifice time, talent and treasure is fundamental to our reason for being,” says Scott.
Delta Sigma Theta implements a program designed to open the minds of 3rd graders to the world of science as they bring young children to Seattle’s Pacific Science Center. The Delta’s also take pride in providing financial aid through their Tessie Miller Scholarship program, which provides young high school students assistance with their costs of education.
Lauren Thomas who heads the Alumni Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta (DST) in the Seattle region, which includes King, Snohomish and Kitsap counties explains DST’s purpose as follows:
“Ensuring through sisterhood, public service and the uplifting of the Black community Delta Sigma Theta Sorority through programs addressing education, social actions and public policy, DST works to enhance African American life.”
Omega Psi Phi Fraternity has chosen to strengthen fatherhood through their international mandate “Fatherhood Initiative” with its goal of enhancing the perceptions and empowering men to uphold the dignity of fatherhood and mentorship as well as financial aid scholarships for up and coming college bound students.
“Community service plays a significant role in Omega Psi Phi Fraternity,” states Gavin Monroe, President of Seattle’s Alumni Chapter of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity. “We not only service our members but we empower our members to give back to their communities through our four cardinal principles of manhood, scholarship, perseverance and uplift.”
According to Sigma Gamma Rho’s Seattle Alumni Chapter, “Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority’s aim is to enhance the quality of life within the community. Public service, leadership development and education of youth are the hallmark of the organization’s
programs and activities. Sigma Gamma Rho addresses concerns that impact society educationally, civically, and economically.
Sigma Gamma Rho hosts a plethora of community services including their Hattie McDaniel Breast Cancer Awareness initiative named after the first African American to win an Academy Award.
Zeta Phi Beta Sorority’s impact on the community rest in a program entitled the Storks Nest which addresses health and wellness for expecting mothers and prenatal care. As Black women it is important that they bring awareness to women particularly women of color of the importance of staying healthy during pregnancy. According to their website, “The Stork’s Nest prenatal education sessions provide information, educational materials and a variety of other resources and referrals that help clients take good care of themselves and their babies.“
Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity’s Zeta Pi Lambda Chapter of Seattle makes their presence known through programs such as their Junior Gents Mentoring Program. According to their website, the program is designed “to mentor teen males of color, ages 12 to 17, in a variety of life skills with the goal of developing confident, well-adjusted young men who possess life skills necessary to be productive members of our community.”
Another attribute of Black Greek organizations is its commitment to education, and scholarship is a major part of giving back to community.
To make sure that Black children and children in general receive an equal opportunity to further their education is significant in Greek life. Each fraternity and sorority offers financial aid and academic assistance through youth mentorship programs to help all those in need.
According to Brenda Vasser, Black fraternities and sororities in Seattle provide tens of thousands of dollars in scholarship funds each year to student looking to pursue their education.
“From the collective efforts of the Pan Hellenic Council in the Pacific Northwest, we average anywhere between $25,000 to $50,000 dollars in scholarship awards each year,” says Vasser, who is a member of the Pan Hellenic Council.
“Am I my brothers (and sisters) keeper?” Well when you look at the body of work set forth by the examples of the men and women of Greek letter organizations for more than a century and the universal leaders that have evolved out of Greek organizations – Thurgood Marshall, Martin Luther King, Ralph Abernathy, Shirley Chisholm, Maya Angelou, Dionne Warwick, Jesse Jackson, James Weldon Johnson, Hattie McDaniel, just to name a few Greek lettered fraternity and sorority members the answer is a resounding yes!
It is incumbent upon us as citizens of communities to care for our family, friends and neighbors. It is essence of community. “Love thy neighbor as thyself…” is the cornerstone of humanity and fraternal and sorority life exemplifies this standard.
This article originally appeared in The Seattle Medium.