By Aaron Allen, The Seattle Medium
Community service and academic achievement are the cornerstones of the Divine Nine (D9), a conglomerate of traditional Black Fraternities and Sororities. The local Seattle chapters of these organizations – Alpha Phi Alpha, Kappa Alpha Psi, Omega Psi Phi, Phi Beta Sigma, Iota Phi Theta, Alpha Kappa Alpha, Delta Sigma Theta, Zeta Phi Beta and Sigma Gamma Rho – are very active by way of community service and are a source of underutilized scholarship opportunities for many college-bound students from the Pacific Northwest.
Born out of academia, Greek letter organizations are fueled and populated by those who value the power of education, and all of the organizations take pride in providing scholarship funds so the next generation of leaders in their chosen field can continue their education after graduating from high school. This year, the collective efforts of the local chapters will distribute $23,000 in scholarship funds to graduating high school seniors and undergraduate students who are continuing their college matriculation, with Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority providing the largest individual scholarships, as they will award two (2) $2,500 scholarships this year.
One of longest standing collective organizations in the Black community next to faith-based organizations (churches, mosques, etc.) and civil liberty organizations such as the NAACP and the Urban League, Greek lettered organization have been providing leadership and service to the well-being of the Black community since the beginning of the 20th century.
During a time when many families are struggling to make ends meet as a result of the pandemic, many students are having to put off their educational pursuits due to finances, and for many others who are able to continue their education without disruption, they could be saddled with the burden of student loan debt.
By tapping into scholarship opportunities like those offered by the Divine 9, members of the various fraternities and sororities hope that they can provide some assistance to lessen the financial burden of the scholarship recipients and their families.
“I think, statistics show that Black and Brown students are in more need of financial assistance than most others and graduate with the most debt once they graduate,” says Ki Thompson, a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity and president of the Seattle chapter of the National Pan Hellenic Council (NPHC) — the collective body of the D9. “So, scholarships definitely help because it obviously minimizes the burden that students would have once, they’ve graduated from college.”
Chukundi Salisbury, a member of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, agrees and says that fraternities and sororities have influenced the academic pursuits of many African Americans for years. The Sigmas, as they are affectionately called, are awarding a total of five (5) $1,000 scholarships to deserving students this year.
“This is super important,” says Salisbury. “[Fraternities and sororities are] one of the oldest service providers we have in the Black community. We certainly have our faith-based organizations and then we have our long running social justice organizations and those are all great, but I would say our Greek organizations are our longest and most consistent organizations that provide service to our communities.”
Each of the local organization offer scholarships in varying amounts to graduating seniors who are looking to continue their education and attain a degree at an accredited college or university. Most of the scholarship applications contain criteria such as grade point averages ranging anywhere between a 2.50 to a 4.0 GPA. Some of the applications will also seek candidates who possess certain characteristics.
For example, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority has their Bertha Pitts Campbell Scholarships, named after one of the organizations original founders, where they award a $2,000 scholarship to three (3) young African American women who demonstrate community service involvement, and express a financial need.
Zeta Phi Beta Sorority offers their Shareece A. Hayes scholarship to a graduating high school senior in King County, Washington with a 2.5 GPA or better, who exemplifies scholarly excellence and exhibits leadership skills in their school and community.
The Seattle Alumni Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi Memorial Scholarship fund provides assistance in much the same manner.
According to a spokesperson for the Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, this year the organization will award two (2) $1,000 scholarships — one to a graduating high school senior and one to a continuing college student — based on academic achievement, personal achievement, and community involvement.
Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity offers three different scholarships — Herbert L. Starke Scholarship – $1,000, C. P. Johnson Scholarship – $500, and the Karl Holifield Scholarship – $1,500 – that each have their own set of criteria and qualifications.
Many of the organizations say that their biggest struggle with scholarships is distributing the funds. Most of them are able to raise the necessary funds pretty regularly, but the number of scholarship applicants for many of the funds do not reflect the need that they know is out there. This is especially true considering Greek organizations have traditionally publicized their scholarships through “word of mouth”.
“I think it is an awareness issue,” says Thompson. “Especially when we look at fraternities and sororities, it’s awareness. I think the majority of people who take advantage of scholarships probably knows someone in a sorority or fraternity and that’s how they hear about it versus us actually making it public.”
“I would say that during the pandemic we’ve had less visibility but in general folks are looking for us to be out here,” says Salisbury. “But there is also room for improvement, to do better to get the world out and I agree we have to get back to the days when fraternities and sororities where at the high schools. I would say that the folks that are looking for scholarships will find us and those who may not know can find us. This is niche scholarship, but we can all do better at trying to reach young people about this.”
Victoria Vassall, a member of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, says that as an organization who values education, Sigma Gamma Rho is dedicated to supporting the academic pursuits of young women in our community.
“Every year, the Delta Psi Sigma Chapter of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc. gives away one (1) $1000 scholarship in memory of our beloved sorority sister Ashley Robinson,” says Vassall. “As a sorority founded by educators, we encourage young ladies who are graduating high school in King County to apply. We would like the community to know that our website also features information on community partnerships, and opportunities for girls who are not yet seniors in high school who are preparing for higher education.”’
For more information about scholarships, scholarship applications and requirements, please use the following contact information for the respective local chapters of these organization(s):
• Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., visit https://www.seattledeltas.org/programs
• Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc., email: firstname.lastname@example.org
• Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc., email: email@example.com
• Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc., visit https://www.seattlesgrho.com/programs
• Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., visit https://seattlealphas.com/alpha-education
• Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., email: DUOF@AKADUO.org
Omega Psi Phi Fraternity and Iota Phi Theta Fraternity did not provide The Seattle Medium with any scholarship information.