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Hard Lessons

Before Jackie Holness could pledge Delta Sigma Theta she had to look inside herself

This is an occasional AJC Sepia series that looks at black Greek letter organizations

My introduction to black Greek collegiate culture was the same as many of us who grew up in the ‘1990s, the golden age of black pop culture.

I tuned into “A Different World” week after week as a high school student. I remember the episode when Whitley pushed too hard while pledging her roommate Kim, who was attempting to be initiated into her sorority.

Whitley’s drill sergeant attitude backfires when Kim and the rest of the pledges simultaneously stop taking orders from her. In the span of the 30-minute sitcom, they, of course, work out their differences, becoming not only sisters in friendship but sorority sisters.

That sorority seed was planted then and began to grow when an older friend pledged Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc. at Wake Forest University.

I remember when she would call to regale me with stories of collegiate life.

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Other than the opportunity to be “fully grown” and all that encompassed, I was most enthralled with her stories of partying on and off campus.

And once she pledged Delta, I was sure her partying was on another level!

She dutifully shared stories about Delta parties, but finally during one conversation, she said she was concerned that my interest in becoming a member of her sorority was strictly so that I could party.

She explained that while she had fun partying as a Delta, her sorority was dedicated to service -- not partying.

I cannot remember her exact words, but she said something like, “I’m not sure if you will ever be a Delta if your attitude doesn’t change.”

I was properly ashamed.

So when I became a freshman at the University of Georgia, I secretly watched the different sororities on campus, noting how individual members carried themselves, what organizations they were involved in and their popularity on campus.

I had whispered conversations with other freshman girls about which sororities piqued our interest. We concluded that we wanted to be Deltas!

At the recommendation of my older friend, I read “In Search of Sisterhood: Delta Sigma Theta and the Challenge of the Black Sorority Movement,” in which the history of the sorority is beautifully chronicled by Paula J. Giddings.

I felt immediate kinship with Giddings who had an enviable career in journalism, which inspired me as my major was journalism.

But even more than that, I was inspired by the history of the sorority which began on Jan. 13, 1913 because 22 collegiate women wanted to commit themselves to social causes of the day such as women’s suffrage rather than be a social club.

Then when I considered all of the notable women who were Deltas including Charlayne Hunter-Gault, the first black woman to integrate my alma mater and a fellow journalist.

I knew then I had to be one too. I just didn’t know how.

The summer after my sophomore year I worked as an intern at a local newspaper, and the editor was a Delta.

Somehow, I found the courage to admit to her that I wanted to be a Delta too.

Not only did she shape my writing that summer, she solidified my desire to be a Delta by pressing an elephant key chain (Elephants are an unofficial symbol for Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Incorporated.) into my hand during our last meeting.  “I know you will be a Delta one day,” she told me.

She was right, and she traveled to Athens on the night of April 9, 1995 to participate in my initiation into the Zeta Psi chapter of Delta Sigma Theta at UGA as member of the 19 Devastating Reflections of Sisterhood.

Shortly after I became a Delta my grandfather passed away, and for the first time I met many of my cousins at his funeral in Jamaica.

I was amazed to discover that two of my cousins, who are also first generation Americans as I am, pledged Delta ahead of me. It seemed that Delta was truly my destiny and since then, some of my younger cousins also pledged Delta.

I continue to be inspired by the women whom I have the privilege of calling my sisters from my own line which includes three medical doctors and a middle school principal, to arguably our most well-known Delta, Attorney General Loretta Lynch, the first African-American woman to hold this position.

Happy Founders Day Sorors!

Next Week: Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc.

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