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Sisterhood and Brotherhood: Exploring the Bond of African American Fraternities and Sororities

Sep 13, 2023 10:00AM ● By Anand Subramanian

Image: Members of the Alpha Chapter, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. welcoming incoming freshmen to the Howard University campus. Source: Instagram | alphachapterdst

African-American fraternities and sororities are vibrant threads, weaving unity, purpose, and a strong sense of identity. These organizations, collectively called the Divine Nine, the National Pan-Hellenic Council, have shaped the African-American community's cultural, educational, and social landscape for over a century. Rooted in the struggle for equality and a desire for self-improvement, these fraternities and sororities have fostered a unique bond of sisterhood and brotherhood that transcends time and circumstance.

A Journey Through History

The history of African-American fraternities and sororities is intertwined with the broader narrative of African-American struggle and triumph in the United States. The early 20th century, marked by segregation, discrimination, and limited opportunities for Black Americans, was a crucible that forged the foundations of these organizations.

Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity in 1910. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., founded in 1906 at Cornell University, was the first African-American fraternity. Its founding members, known as the "Seven Jewels," envisioned an organization that uplifts and empowers the Black community through scholarship, service, and brotherhood. Alpha Phi Alpha laid the groundwork for what would become a rich tradition of African-American fraternities.

The emergence of African-American sororities soon followed. In 1908, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. was founded at Howard University, setting the stage for a parallel movement of sisterhood and service. These early fraternities and sororities created spaces where African Americans could find solidarity, support, and personal and collective growth opportunities.

As the years passed, more organizations joined this movement, each with its unique mission and values. Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc.Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc.Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc.Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc.Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc., and Iota Phi Theta Fraternity, Inc.. Each organization boasts a rich history and a distinct legacy, but all are committed to advancing the African-American community.

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The Essence of Sisterhood

Within these organizations, sisterhood is not merely a catchphrase but a lived experience. Sororities like Alpha Kappa Alpha, Delta Sigma Theta, Zeta Phi Beta, and Sigma Gamma Rho have cultivated a unique bond among their members. This bond is built on shared experiences, values, and a deep commitment to service.

Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., founded in 1913 at Howard University, exemplifies the essence of sisterhood. Their members, Deltas, are united by a commitment to public service and social justice. Through initiatives like "Deltas Against Domestic Violence" and "Financial Fortitude," Delta Sigma Theta empowers women to positively impact their communities.

For Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, sisterhood is grounded in scholarship, service, sisterly love, and finer womanhood. The organization's commitment to community service shines through programs like "Zetas Helping Other People Excel" (Z-HOPE), which addresses critical societal issues, including education and health.

Sigma Gamma Rho members attend the March on Washington's 60th Anniversary. Source: Instagram | sgrhoupdates

Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc. emphasizes scholarship, sisterhood, and community involvement. Their dedication to nurturing the next generation of leaders is evident in programs like the "Project Reassurance" initiative, which supports teenage mothers.

Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., one of the oldest and most prominent African-American sororities, boasts a membership of over 300,000 women. Its focus on leadership, sisterhood, and service is embodied in its programs, including "AKA HBCU Endowment Fund" and "Target 1: HBCU for Life: A Call to Action."

These sororities foster sisterhood through rituals, traditions, and shared values. Members refer to each other as "sorors," signifying the familial bond that unites them. This sisterhood extends beyond college, providing a lifelong support network and camaraderie. 

The Essence of Brotherhood

On the brotherhood side, African-American fraternities like Alpha Phi Alpha, Kappa Alpha Psi, Omega Psi Phi, Phi Beta Sigma, and Iota Phi Theta have likewise nurtured a strong sense of community, responsibility, and achievement among their members.

As the first African-American fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. set a precedent for excellence and leadership. Their commitment to brotherhood, scholarship, and service is reflected in programs like "Go-to-High School, Go-to-College," and the "Alpha Phi Alpha Education Foundation."

Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc. strongly emphasizes achievement and personal development. Their mentoring programs, such as "Guide Right," help young men navigate the challenges of adolescence and prepare for a successful future.

Omega Psi Phi's Youth Leadership Conference in Nassau Bahamas, 2023. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc. is known for its commitment to social justice and community service. Members, known as Ques, are dedicated to uplifting their communities through programs like "Omega Psi Phi Social Action Programs."

Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc. emphasizes academic achievement and community service. Their programmatic initiatives, like "Sigma Beta Club," provide mentorship and support to young men.

Iota Phi Theta Fraternity, Inc., the youngest of the Divine Nine, was founded in 1963. Despite its relatively recent inception, Iota Phi Theta has made a significant impact through its dedication to scholarship, leadership, and service.

Brotherhood in these fraternities is forged through shared experiences, rituals, and a commitment to uplifting one another. The term "brother" is not just a title but a reflection of the deep bonds formed within these organizations. Brothers support each other academically, professionally, and personally throughout their lives.

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Legacy and the Future

The legacy of African-American fraternities and sororities is one of resilience, service, and empowerment. They have played a vital role in shaping the African-American community's identity and fostering a sense of belonging. These organizations have created a lasting impact that transcends generations through their commitment to education, community service, and social justice.

As we look to the future, the influence of the Divine Nine continues to expand. Young men and women are joining these organizations with a passion for making a difference in their communities and society. The African-American community's challenges may evolve, but the commitment of these fraternities and sororities to uplift and empower remains unwavering.

In a world that often emphasizes division and discord, the bond of sisterhood and brotherhood within African-American fraternities and sororities is a testament to the power of unity and shared purpose. It is a reminder that communities can come together to effect change and create a brighter future for all in the face of adversity.

As we celebrate these organizations' rich history and enduring legacy, we are reminded that the journey of sisterhood and brotherhood is a journey of progress, empowerment, and hope. It is a journey that continues to shape the African-American community and inspire us all to strive for excellence and unity.

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 Anand Subramanian is a freelance photographer and content writer based out of Tamil Nadu, India. Having a background in Engineering always made him curious about life on the other side of the spectrum. He leapt forward towards the Photography life and never looked back. Specializing in Documentary and  Portrait photography gave him an up-close and personal view into the complexities of human beings and those experiences helped him branch out from visual to words. Today he is mentoring passionate photographers and writing about the different dimensions of the art world.

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