Black Sororities and Fraternities at Cleveland State
Black Greek Letter Organizations and their presence here at Cleveland State University
Written by: Cimira Crews
Black sororities and fraternities have been a meaningful part of not only Black history, but the Black history of Cleveland. Cleveland State University houses six active organizations out of the “Divine Nine,” better known as the National Pan-Hellenic Council (NPHC), and these organizations are looking to gain more traction and acknowledgement on campus. Although not all chapters hold members, they are all looking to add more dynamic students to revive the respective chapters to continue the legacy. The “Divine Nine” is a group of nine Black Greek-lettered organizations. These organizations go beyond college — they are networking agents, providing a lifetime of friendship and working as fully operational businesses behind the fancy colors, calls and strolls.
According to Cleveland State University’s Diversity Report & Action Plan for the 2019–2020 school year, Black students made up 16% of the student body in 2017. But estimates from the United States Census Bureau show that 48.8% of the Cleveland population is Black. The representation for the Black student body is small, but through the Black Greek-lettered sororities and fraternities (BGLOs), Black students can find a space where they aren’t the minority. They just need to know where to start and where to go to find these spaces. Members from various NPHC organizations gave their perspectives on the importance of their organizations and how to be a part of them.
Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity
Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. was the first Black Greek-lettered organization and also the first to be founded at a predominately white institution. Robert Bruce-Bey the 2nd is a Spring 2021 initiate of the fraternity and a member of the Pi chapter here at Cleveland State, which is also a city-wide chapter. That means they are affiliated with several other schools in the Greater Cleveland Area. They have nine schools in their charter, making them the biggest footprint within the organization. “Four things that drew my interest to my fraternity are the historical members that were in Alpha Phi Alpha,” (former members include Black pioneers Martin Luther King Jr., W.E.B. DuBois and Frederick Douglass) “the diversity I found within the organization, even though morals were similar, it was so many different personalities between everyone, the support I received from members within the chapter and the connections that were offered to me,” said Bruce-Bey. He says, “Joining is a lifetime commitment, service and mentorship is going to be needed for life to ensure chapters keep up in quality.”
Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority
Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. was founded on January 15, 1908, the first Black Greek letter sorority founded on the campus of Howard University. The sorority’s Motto is “By Culture and By Merit.”
Mignon Moore, a Spring 2021 initiate of the sorority, represents the Omega chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha, the last single letter chapter in the sorority. “Seeing the service and sisterhood not only within the chapter but the sorority as a whole, Is what made my organization stand out compared to others” Moore says. “My grandmother, who is a Golden Soror of AKA, as well as other members who I’ve been raised around influenced my decision, teachers and peers, to become a member”. The sorority has raised over 2 million dollars for HBCUs this past year on a national level. “Make sure you do your research to understand what we truly are about. It is a lifetime commitment to service, sisterhood, and creating an impact on the world,” said Moore.
Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity
Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc. was founded on the campus of Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana.
Representing the Alpha Omega chapter here at Cleveland State is Anthonie Jackson, a Spring 2020 initiate of the chapter, who is also the president of the NPHC chapter here on campus. The Alpha Omega chapter is a city-wide chapter. Jackson said the four things that caught his eye about the organization were “strolling, brotherhood, colors, and mannerisms.” Some notable figures in the organization are Carl Stokes, the first African-American mayor of Cleveland, and his brother Louis Stokes, who was the first African-American congressman elected in the state of Ohio and the namesake of the Louis Stokes Medical Center. “My advice that I would give to some attempting to join my org would be to find a Kappa on the yard, if possible, and attend every event until you are satisfied,” said Jackson.
Delta Sigma Theta Sorority
Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. was founded by 22 collegiate women on the campus of Howard University. CSU’s Theta Eta chapter has made a tremendous amount of history here on campus; the chapter helped book Angela Davis on CSU’s annual book tour in 1974. On a national level, Delta’s first act of public service was at the Women's Suffrage March of 1913. They were the only Black sorority at this historic event. Che’Ron Jackson is a Spring 2021 initiate who joined the sorority for its sisterhood, community service, scholarship and the focus on the Black community as a whole. “I knew I wanted to become a member of DST since I was a little girl, but my freshman year of highschool is when I started to take it more serious,” said Jackson. “ I started doing my research, I read books, I spoke to members of the organization and even looked into the chapters of the schools I was interested in. Once I got to college I started off by showing up to as many events as possible and continuously keeping my GPA up.” She offers this advice to prospective members: “Treat us like we are normal people, say hi when you see us, and show up to events. Also ... we are a scholarship based organization and the minimum GPA you can have is a 2.75, so don’t lose sight of your grades.”
Zeta Phi Beta Sorority
Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. was founded at Howard University by five undergrad women who wanted to get rid of elitism and form a sorority to serve the community.
The Psi Theta chapter has a long history of being advocates for Greek life on the campus. Jovanni Childress is a Spring 2021 initiate in the chapter, and the president of the chapter as well. “Zeta is one of the first organizations to actively seek out chartering chapters in the south and the first to have a chapter in Africa,” according to Childress. “On a chapter level, we are responsible for holding many events that promote school spirit and we work closely with Cleveland Metropolitan School District.” When asked how she went about expressing interest, she said that she started by getting to know the members and volunteering with them often. “Once enough time had passed, the members created a safe space for a conversation regarding my interest to be held,” she said. “My advice would be to get to know members outside of Greek life and for who they are as a person. Attend as many social and service events as they are well planned and allow us to interact while upholding our principles.” Childress wished more students knew the true passion BGLOs had for bettering the community and that even though we all represent different orgs, that we operate as a family and have nothing but respect for each other.
Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Incorporated
Sigma Gamma Rho was formed on the principles of “Sisterhood, Scholarship, and Service.” Nariah Swails, president of the Theta Rho chapter here at CSU, was a Spring 2021 initiate. When asked who influenced her to join her organization, Swails said, “Watching my mother and aunt both be true Sigma women, I always knew Sigma Gamma Rho is for me and where my heart was. The way they carried themselves and upheld the values of this illustrious organization, inspired me to do the same.” The chapter contributes to their national initiatives through programming such as their Operation Big Book Bag, March of Dimes Walk for babies and Swim 1922. “Giving back is something I hold near to my heart simply because even if we don’t realize it but letting those who are less fortunate than us see that we recognize them and we see them, brings joy and happiness to them, especially the children and that is what matters,” Swails added. When it comes to someone who is interested in her organization, Swails’ advice is to do your research because it is a lifelong commitment, that discretion (keeping your interest near to your heart) is key and to get to know people in the chapter.
Iota Phi Theta Fraternity, Incorporated
Iota Phi Theta was founded at Morgan State University. They were the last Black Greek-lettered organization to be initiated into NPHC. Their Five stars, or principles, are scholarship, leadership, citizenship, fidelity and brotherhood among men.
Geovonte Craig represents the Theta Chi chapter at Kent State University. Delta Tau is the chapter here at Cleveland State University, and they are looking to reactivate and be more present on campus. Iota Phi Theta was inspired by social activists and organizations such as Malcom X, Stockely Carmichael, Black Panthers and the Rainbow Coalition. The organization had staged protests such as the Northwood shopping center that was built across from Morgan State University in the early 1960s. The theater intended to segregate the service available at the shopping center, which became a problem for students attending the university across the street; Iotas quickly jumped into action and played an active and critical role during the Civil Rights movement and beyond. Craig’s advice on individuals' interest in Iota? “Just be yourself and research all the orgs before deciding and even after you research, do a double take on it and make sure because the bond and the tradition you have to hold up isn’t just for undergrad, it is for the rest of your life.”
Doing your research, making sure your personal values align with the organization you might be interested in and finding your why will help you on your journey to deciding which organization is for you. We all contribute different things to the community but we are all founded on community service, activism and scholarship and becoming a member of these organizations means you are upholding the values and vision of our founders, and continuing to improve your respective organization for a lifetime. It is not an easy journey, but what you gain is beyond what any other organizations offered, can provide for you.