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Few college pledges are as enduring as the ones members of Black sororities and fraternities take as young adults.
Consider Frances Webb of Ann Arbor, Michigan, who died of complications from COVID-19 on May 9, eight months shy of her 100th birthday. Webb joined Delta Sigma Theta at West Virginia State University during World War II, and remained an active “soror” throughout her life, mentoring younger members even in her later years.
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Webb monitored Deltas’ careers, penned notes of encouragement and sent care packages, noted Kim Trent, 51, a Delta who was a beneficiary of Webb's friendship. “She never wrote the words ‘I'm proud of you,’ but she didn't have to,” Trent wrote in an obituary tribute to Webb. “I knew."
For many members of Black Greek life, bonds formed at fraternities and sororities in college span generations, geographies, professions and personal lives. Alums take their roles to heart, supporting each other in ways that in other spheres only the closest of friends would take on.
The strength of these relationships was on full display last year, after Kamala Harris, a Howard University alum and Alpha Kappa Alpha member, was elected U.S. vice president. The AKA sisterhood took a vocal and strong role in supporting and cheering Harris. Individual members raised money for her campaign, and used their collective power to get out the vote. The New York Times called the sorority — which Harris has indicated is a major influence in her life — Harris’ “secret weapon.”
Harris’ feelings about her sorority aren't unique. Trent's continued relationship with the Delta sisterhood, even after graduation, “gave me one of my life's greatest blessings,” through “the lasting bonds I formed with older women that have endured throughout my adult life.”
The ‘Divine Nine'
Black Greek-lettered organizations belong to the National Pan-Hellenic Council (NPHC), whose mission, in part, is to “foster cooperative actions of its members in dealing with matters of mutual concern.”