NAACP Values Partnerships with the Divine 9
By Maria Morales
The Black Greek-letter fraternities and sororities also known as the “Divine Nine” have had a long and invaluable strategic partnership with the NAACP. The National Pan-Hellenic Council (NPHC) Council Inc. is the governing body for the nine major Black fraternities and sororities that comprise the Divine Nine: Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc., Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc., Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Inc., Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc., Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity Inc., Zeta Phi Beta Sorority Inc., Omega Psi Phi Fraternity Inc., Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority Inc., and Iota Phi Theta Fraternity Inc.
During the 2020 election, the Divine Nine partnered with the NAACP to mobilize Black voters on both the national and local levels. The fraternities and sororities held voter registration drives, conducted no-contact canvassing on foot and in car caravans through predominantly Black neighborhoods and worked phone banks to reach low-frequency voters and voters in battleground states. Black fraternity and sorority members also provided rides to the polls. In addition, the Divine Nine worked with the NAACP on the importance of completing the census.
But the Divine Nine’s partnership with the NAACP just didn’t start with the 2020 election. The Black Greek-letter organizations have a long history of working with the nation’s oldest and largest civil rights organization on issues relevant to the African American community.
The Divine Nine organizations, for example, have collaborated with the NAACP in the civic engagement arena, and have supported the NAACP financially and through their NAACP membership. Some of the fraternities and sororities have created unique programming specific to their relationship with the NAACP. Here is a rundown by organization highlighting some of the programs between the NAACP and the Divine Nine.
Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc.
Founded in 1906, the Alphas are the oldest Black Greek-letter organization and their involvement in the NAACP goes back to W.E.B. DuBois, one of the founders of the NAACP in 1909 and The Crisis in 1910.
This election year, the Alphas, along with the other Divine Nine organizations, mobilized with two NAACP programs: GOTV – Get Out the Vote; and GOTC – Get Out the Count. GOTV included community-based voter initiatives carried out by chapters, including the ability for the chapters to apply for grants to develop programming that gets people to the polls.
“Our biggest relationship with the NAACP is voting and its various iterations,” said Dr. Colin Campbell, vice president of civic engagement for Alpha Phi Alpha. “I do know that the brothers got out of their homes and pounded the pavement. They set up voter registration drives and mobilized their communities.”
The GOTC campaign promoted completing the census and jobs with the census, Campbell said.
In 2019, the fraternity signed a historic memorandum of understanding with the NAACP to share common priorities and shared objectives to ensure the political, educational, economic, and social equality for all citizens; to achieve equality of rights and eliminate racial prejudice; to remove barriers of racial discrimination; to seek the enactment of federal, state, and local laws securing civil rights; to inform the public of the adverse effects of racial discrimination; and to educate people as to their constitutional rights.
Those objectives are being carried out in a variety of programs, Campbell said. “Building capacity and infrastructure at both organizations for sustainable impact in our communities and society is our overall goal with this partnership,” he added.
Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc.
The first Black Greek-letter sorority for women of color, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. has always advocated for legislative issues and public policies on behalf of its communities, and particularly on behalf of African-American women. Sorority members are encouraged to be NAACP subscribing life members at a minimum with a pathway towards life membership. The sorority holds its own NAACP membership drives within AKA.
The first African-American woman to become chair of the NAACP national board of directors was Margaret Bush Wilson, an AKA, in 1975.
“There are many synergies between the work of the NAACP and the social justice agenda of Alpha Kappa Alpha,” said Roslyn M. Brock, International Connection Committee chairman for AKA and NAACP chairman emeritus.
Areas of parallel civic engagement between the two organizations include health care, education, and financial and economic empowerment. In partnership with the NAACP Youth and College Division, the sorority provides programing on K-12 back-to-school preparedness, academic excellence and achievement, and career readiness. Also, AKA members serve on the education committees of NAACP branches to help execute and implement their programs.
The sorority has also worked collectively with the NAACP on joint legislation around domestic violence, women’s rights and pay equity, and is currently working on legislation in support of reinstating the Voting Rights Act.
“Alpha Kappa Alpha is a ready source of membership and legislative outreach at the grassroots level for an extended NAACP touch and reach,” said Brock.
Alpha Kappa Alpha is also working to close the wealth gap by increasing opportunities for wealth building, entrepreneurship and financial stability. The sorority hosts seminars and outreach programs with speakers from the NAACP.
Early in its history, AKAs were chronicled in The Crisis attending a women’s suffrage march in 1913 with the sorority’s first international president, Nellie Quander. Quander helped ensure the safety of Black women who attended the march, Brock said.
Previous partnerships between AKA and the NAACP include integration of the armed services in the 1940s and 1950s (which is documented in the Smithsonian Institution); vaccinations for farmers in the Deep South; and tackling public health issues in urban areas.
“We’re really proud of the social justice history of the women of Alpha Kappa Alpha,” Brock said. “We’re pleased that as women of Alpha Kappa Alpha, we embody the NAACP’s missions and policies.”
Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Inc.
Kappa Alpha Psi is the first Black Greek-letter organization to require NAACP membership of its members.
Since the fall of 2018, all new Kappa initiates have become NAACP members as part of their intake process with the fraternity. The fraternity then gives the NAACP a check for the total dues collected by its members for that year. In the program’s first year, the fraternity provided almost 2,500 new members and more than $50,000 in dues revenues to the NAACP, according to John F. Burrell, executive director of Kappa Alpha Psi.
“We really wanted to focus on strengthening our membership engagement with the NAACP,” Burrell said of the program.
In addition to its membership program, fraternity members also participated in the NAACP’s voter engagement campaign during the 2020 election season. Kappa members in cities such as Houston, Texas and Jackson, Mississippi for example, volunteered to drive people to the polls.
Burrell also said it’s a way for the more seasoned members to educate the younger generation on the importance of the NAACP and its role in the community.
“The NAACP has been in the struggle for a long time, fighting for our community, and the older brothers want to ensure that battle continues and that we continue to support the NAACP,” said Burrell.
Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc.
Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc. has had a long partnership with the NAACP, both formal and informal. Notable NAACP leaders who are members of Delta Sigma Theta include former NAACP board Chair Myrlie Evers-Williams and NAACP New York State Conference President Hazel Dukes.
During the 2020 election season more than 3,000 Deltas, 400 of whom are attorneys, volunteered at the polls, call centers, and virtually to monitor and document complaints, said Shavon Arline-Bradley, co-chair of the sorority’s National Social Action Commission.
“The NAACP is our main partner in social action, and we’re very proud of our partnership with the NAACP and the work we do,” said Beverly Smith, national president and CEO of Delta Sigma Theta.
The Deltas have social action commissioners in each chapter who work with the local NAACP branches. Sorority members also serve as first responders for the NAACP. When the NAACP identifies a hot spot, Smith said, the Deltas dispatch a rapid response team from the local chapter in that community to work with the local NAACP branch. The team also drafts official statements on issues of social justice in alignment with NAACP national efforts.
Like other NPHC organizations, the Deltas have adapted the NAACP’s Social Action Toolkit for its chapters and encourages their sorority members to be active in the NAACP in their communities.
“The NAACP and Delta are synonymous because we are an organization of social action,” said Arline-Bradley, who previously served as the NAACP’s executive vice president of strategic planning and partnerships. “The NAACP knows that Delta has an infrastructure on the ground that advances social action.”
Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity Inc.
Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity Inc., recently established the Phi Beta Sigma James Weldon Johnson Scholarship with the NAACP’s youth development program. Johnson, who penned the Negro National Anthem, Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing, was a ember of the fraternity. He also served as the first African American executive secretary of the NAACP from 1920 to 1930.
“The pandemic is wreaking havoc for students from all backgrounds, and under these current economic conditions, many students are not going to receive the financial assistance they need because universities are strapped,” said Daryl A. Anderson Sr., Phi Beta Sigma’s international executive director. “We want to support those students, but we wanted to do so via the relationship we already have with the NAACP.”
The Sigmas funded the scholarship with a $50,000 initial contribution. The NAACP will oversee the administration and distribution of funds, as well as the selection of recipients. The first awards will be issued later this year to graduating high school seniors and currently enrolled college students.
Phi Beta Sigma also partners with the NAACP on health and financial literacy, economic development, and environment justice programs, key pillars of the NAACP’s civic engagement.
The Sigmas volunteer in the VITA income tax assistance program by offering free tax help to low-income residents. The programs are run through local NAACP branches and even at Phi Beta Sigma headquarters in Washington, D.C.
In addition, the fraternity’s chapters sponsor job banks and job development programs in collaboration with their local NAACP. The fraternity also assists members of the community who need to have criminal records expunged.
Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc.
Zeta Phi Beta Sorority Inc. has had a long relationship with the NAACP dating back to the sorority’s founding on the campus of Howard University. For example, Karen Boykin-Towns, a Zeta, currently serves as vice chairman of the NAACP board of directors.
“Since our inception in 1920, we’ve focused on being community conscious and action oriented,” said Nicole Butler, international social action director for Zeta Phi Beta. “The NAACP has a longstanding tradition of advocating for change and that’s also what Zeta is about.”
One example of their partnership was when the NAACP Brunswick, Georgia, branch and the Eta Gamma Zeta chapter of Zeta Phi Beta came together for a town hall in June after the death of Brunswick resident Ahmaud Arbery. Since then, the two entities have hosted voter registration drives, educational forums, census drives, and other activities for the local community.
The Zetas are currently engaging in a little friendly competition with their Sigma brothers to see which group can get the most members to join the NAACP. Both organizations, together known as the “blue and white family,” began the membership drive in September.
The Zetas goal is to increase their NAACP membership by at least 5 percent every year at the yearly and life membership levels. Zeta Phi Beta, as an organization, is a life member of the NAACP.
Butler noted: “We’ve aligned with the NAACP because we want to set the tone that change is necessary in our communities.”
Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc.
Omega Psi Phi Fraternity Inc. has partnered with the NAACP for decades, and its primary relationship has always evolved around getting out the vote, according to David Marion, grand basileus of Omega Psi Phi.
The Omegas were engaged in the Get Out the Vote campaign during the 2020 election, working with the NAACP’s civic engagement team. Fraternity members worked phone banks to call voters with low participation to encourage them to vote in this year’s election. Omega chapters coordinated with NAACP branches for voter education, particularly on down-ballot issues, Marion said.
The fraternity looks to the NAACP to provide crucial information on criminal justice reform, housing, education, health care reform, and HBCUs so its members can receive trusted, detailed information on the issues, Marion said.
The Omegas can boast that two of their late fraternity brothers served as NAACP executive director: Roy Wilkins and Benjamin Hooks.
“NAACP is just an all-around partner on civil rights and social action activities and it’s one of the best partnerships we have,” said Marion.
Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc.
For the women of Sigma Gamma Rho, the fight for social justice became personal when one of their sorors, Sandra Bland, died while in police custody after a routine traffic stop in 2015. Bland’s death launched the #SayHerName movement to raise awareness of Black women who have been victims of police violence and created a new women’s movement.
“That was a pivotal moment in history,” said Sigma Gamma Rho International Grand Basileus Rasheeda Liberty.
The Bland tragedy also activated Sigma Gamma Rho to develop a social action agenda focused on the empowerment of women, youth advocacy and police reform, and to strengthen its relationship with the NAACP.
The sorority has hosted panel discussions with the NAACP and NOBLE, the National Association of Black Law Enforcement Executives. Together, they developed the “Golden Alert” program, which has been taught on college campuses. The program targets ages 18-25 and how they interact with the police. Regional NAACP leadership educates attendees about police reform in their local communities.
Each March since Bland’s death, between 300 and 500 SGRHO chapters have held a youth symposium. NAACP members present workshops during the symposium on how to safely interact with police. The NAACP will also participate in the SGRHO’s 2021 virtual national youth symposium.
Looking toward the future, Liberty says SGRHO will be focused on developing a leadership training program with the NAACP that will train women to run for office and other leadership roles.
“Our organization wasn’t founded on just the principle of unifying as African American women. We were uniquely founded on the principle of seven African American women at [Butler] university with KKK marches being held on the corner of the campus,” explained Liberty.
“Foundationally, we were already set apart to deal with social action immediately, but several interactions that have driven our social action, most notably the death of our soror, Sandra Bland, in a Texas jail, have been a catalyst for why our relationship with the NAACP has bloomed,” she added.
Iota Phi Theta Fraternity Inc.
Iota Phi Theta does not have proprietary programming with the NAACP, but the fraternity follows suit with the Divine Nine organizations in supporting the NAACP, especially when it comes to voting initiatives.
As with the other Divine Nine fraternities, the Iotas partnered with the NAACP on Get Out the Vote activities including voter registration and voter education projects, primarily at the chapter level, said Andre R. Manson, international grand polaris of Iota Phi Theta.
For example, the Iotas worked closely with the NAACP on the “Black Men Vote” project to get 1 million Black men to the polls.
“We all [had] the same goal, to get as many Black men to the polls as possible,” said Manson.