By Aaron Allen, The Seattle Medium
Last week on the Campus of the University of Washington, The National Pan-Hellenic Council (NPHC), affectionately known as “The Divine Nine”, honored its membership with a Divine Nine Crest Dedication.
On majority White campuses across the country sometimes it is difficult for students of color to arrive on campus and discover something that is welcoming or provide an atmosphere they can relate to. The purpose of the crests of Black Fraternal and Sororal organizations gives students of color a symbol, a sign, saying “hey we are here, someone just like you, you have support, welcome.”
The NPHC was founded in 1930 on the campus of Howard University in Washington D.C. It is derived of 9 Black intercollegiate Sororities and Fraternities: Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, founded in 1906 at Cornell University; Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, founded in 1908 at Howard University; Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, founded in 1911 at Indiana University; Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, founded in 1911 at Howard University; Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, founded in 1913 at Howard University; Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, founded in 1914 at Howard University; Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, founded in 1920 at Howard University; Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, founded in 1922 at Butler University and Iota Phi Theta Fraternity, founded in 1963 at Morgan State University.
Both undergraduate and alumni members of each of the Fraternities and Sororities were in attendance for this historic occasion. Calen Garrett, a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity and President of the NPHC at the University of Washington, says that having the crests of all nine organizations in one place on campus is a reminder to everyone about the important role that these organizations play in not only student life on campus, but also how they connect older and younger members of each organization to help empower our community both on and outside of campus.
“This is an amazing day,” says Garrett. “It was good to see everyone on campus, alumni members, community members, showing that Greek unity.”
Measured approximately 3 feet by 2.5 feet the crests adorned the main wall of the foray of the Husky Union Building (HUB). Each crest crafted in their formal colors and symbolisms that will provide young, incoming students of color a symbol of access and acceptance as they arrive in their first college experience.
As you enter the main entrance of the the building, directly to one’s right, you can find the display honorably mounted on the wall. Below the crests, on the bottom left corner of that wall is a plaque and nine descriptions of what the crests stand for.
Brenda Vasser, an alumni member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, says that the NPHC’s journey and the symbolic presence of the crests, provides a phenomenal perspective of just how far the Greek organizations at the University of Washington have come in their efforts to mold and shape young, Black people.
“Today is just remarkable,” says Vasser. “This journey started twenty-eight years ago and it is just phenomenal to see where we have grown from. The young people here have just blossomed and it has been a wonderful occasion to say that we are still striving and surviving and giving them what they need to become full, well-rounded people so they can be impactful in our communities and productive citizens.”
William Garling, who pledged at the Delta Pi Chapter (Michigan State University) of Kappa Alpha Psi in 1968, and a member of the Seattle Alumni Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi, also stressed the importance of recognizing Black Fraternities and Sororities on campus in this way.
“This is important because of achievement,” says Garling. “Young people need to see that Black fraternities and sororities were the basis of support for all of our achievements on these campuses.”
“The popular notion is that Fraternities, like Kappa Alpha Psi, all came out of HBCUs but that’s not true,” added Garling. “We [Kappa Alpha Psi] were founded at Indiana University, which is a White school and why we were founded was because we had to support one another in the state that gave birth to the Klu Klux Klan. So, this is an important day to acknowledge those things that we have bequeathed to those that are following us, the young people that are following us, the young people that are going to join these Greek organizations and that’s why it is so important that our symbols are placed on this wall.”
Black Fraternities and Sororities give our young people the conduits to lend their talents and genius to their chosen profession and to provide service to the community.
Some of America’s greatest Black leaders were members of Black Greek Fraternities and Sororities: Rev. Ralph Abernathy, Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity; Martin Luther King, Jr., Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity; Dorothy Vaughn, Katherine Johnson, and Mary Jackson of the Hidden Figures movie, were all members of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority; Aretha Franklin, Delta Sigma Theta; Hattie McDaniel, Sigma Gamma Rho; Dionne Warwick, Zeta Phi Beta; Jesse Jackson, Omega Psi Phi; George Washington Carver, Phi Beta Sigma and Spencer Christian, Iota Phi Theta. All through the guidance of their organizations lived a life of achievement and lending their talents to humanity.
The history of Black Greek organization runs deep in the African American experience and the University of Washington wants to make sure its life’s blood and work is prominently displayed and recognized for future eyes to see, minds to embrace and bodies to be active in.
“This is really empowering for the young generation of Greek fraternities and sororities,” says Garrett. “This is good because it shows that there is a lot of love, even having members here from decades past showing their love for the younger generations.”