By Erica Wright
The Birmingham Times
When Gaynell Hendricks met U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris in Birmingham during a fundraiser last year, Hendricks knew that Harris was more than capable to serve as the nation’s next vice president.
“I supported her when she was running for president [during the Democratic primary], so I knew her qualifications and I knew she would do well in any position,” Hendricks said. “I was very happy that former vice president [and current presidential candidate] Joe Biden chose her as his running mate [in the 2020 general election].”
In August, Harris, 55, accepted the Democratic nomination for vice president, making history as the first Black woman and Asian-American on a major U.S. presidential ticket.
During the Democratic National Convention, when she accepted the nomination, Harris famously said, “Family is my beloved Alpha Kappa Alpha [Sorority Inc. (AKA)], our Divine Nine [historically Black Greek Letter Organizations (BGLOs)], …”
Hendricks, who currently serves as Jefferson County Tax Assessor, said she is proud of Harris for several reasons—and the fact that the vice president nominee is her sorority sister is just an added bonus.
“For me, Soror Kamala shines really bright as an example of the tremendous legacy of all of the trailblazing women that uphold our sorority. I salute her in her history-making nomination,” said Hendricks, an active AKA member.
Harris initiated as a member while she was a student at Howard University in Washington, D.C., where she graduated in 1986 with a degree in political science and economics.
AKA, which does not endorse political candidates, was founded at Howard University in 1908; the sorority has more than 300,000 initiated domestic and international members. Dr. Glenda Glover, international president of the sorority, said Harris’s nomination was a proud moment for AKA and the BGLOs that make up the National Pan-Hellenic Council—and a particularly uplifting moment for Black women.
“It is a proud moment for any citizen of this country who believes in the possibilities that America represents, regardless of race, color or creed, sex, nationality or political party,” Glover said.
AKA members across the Birmingham area couldn’t agree more. While the group does not endorse candidates, members said they will do their part to make sure people are informed about and empowered to vote in the November 3 election.
“[Harris’s nomination] validates the type of women who are members of our sorority—that we are all leaders; that we are all passionate about our community and our country; that we are bright, scholarly women,” said Hendricks, who attended LeMoyne-Owen College, the only HBCU in Memphis, Tennessee, and is active in the Omicron Omega chapter in Birmingham.
“Our chapter does a local voter registration drive every year. … That has always been part of what we do in our sorority, even on a national scale,” she said. “We will continue to try and help get the vote out [by] registering voters.”
Phaith “DJ Chocolate” Frazier is an active AKA member, local DJ, and founder of the Grown and Greek Weekend, an event that brings together members BGLOs to network and participate in community service efforts.
She uses her platform to encourage voter empowerment during sorority initiatives throughout the Southeastern Region, which includes Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee.
“[Being a DJ], I’ve personally participated in virtual events that encourage people to vote and go beyond just registering to vote for an election,” Frazier said. “You have to be actively involved in the process, from hosting panels to being on panels and telling people about different issues.”
‘Ready To Lead’
As a member of the House of Representatives and AKA, U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell said Harris brings a wealth of experience to the nation.
“I think she is an excellent choice and is ready to lead on day one, having served in her capacity not only as a senator but also as the attorney general for the state of California,” Sewell said. “I think she is uniquely qualified, and it is just icing on the cake that she is a sorority sister.”
Leah J. Wiggins, president of the Omicron Omega chapter of the AKA and a Birmingham small business owner, said Harris’s nomination is historic, especially for Black women.
“It shows that there are greater heights for us and that we can achieve when we set our heart and mind to it,” she said. “I have a daughter [who attends Spelman College, an HBCU in Atlanta, Georgia], and the fact that she can see a woman who may have a background similar to hers achieve [such heights] is great. … For me, it was motivation and inspiration that you can reach any level you choose or aspire to in the country.”
Wiggins pointed to the sorority’s rich history and its members, who are dedicated to community service.
“My reason for joining was because of the support we provide to people locally and globally and the contributions we make that have a financial impact, such as … [our] support to sustain [HBCUs] and [improve] the health of women and the community at large,” she said. “It all goes back to what AKA stands for.”
Birmingham City Council member Wardine Alexander, also a member of the Omicron Omega chapter of AKA, said she is excited to see Black women reach the highest levels in government, which shows the significance of HBCUs.
“Of course, I am excited she is a member of AKA, as well. … We’re happy to see her, a woman of color, in this position,” Alexander said. “We’ve always been an organization that wants to be part of the social welfare and change in government, so this just gives us another opportunity to do that.”
Frazier said she was elated because “I was able to put myself being a woman in that position.”
“I think [Harris] has helped me and all women—Black women, in particular—feel like we could possibly have a seat at the table and a voice that would be heard,” she added. “She is not only a member of a BGLO but also a member of an elite group of black professionals who are well-educated leaders in their industries and sectors of work and community. She’s giving us a voice and position of spotlight that we probably would not have gotten otherwise.”
Hendricks agreed, noting that Harris’s nomination confirms that AKA members are “passionate about our community and our country.”
Cheryl Allen, president of the Psi Xi Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc who resides in Calera, Alabama and works for the Shelby County School District, said Harris’s historic nomination represents what can be accomplished when dreams, rights, and opportunities intersect.
“I am honored to witness this time in our nation,” Allen said. “However, it also reflects what has been evident throughout history with regard to Black women being resilient instruments of change and the backbone of the civil rights and social justice movements that have shaped this country.”
Hendricks recalled another part of her conversation with Harris during their meeting in Birmingham last year.
“We chatted for a moment, and I think she may have seen an AKA pin I had on. I mentioned that I was also a [member of the Links Inc., an organization of African American women devoted to strengthening African American communities through fundraising, education, advocacy, and volunteering], and [Harris] said, ‘We’re double sisters.’
“But really we’re triple sisters because we are African American women who care about this country and want to do our part to see it move forward in the right direction.”
The Divine Nine
There are nine historically Black Greek letter organizations that make up the National Pan-Hellenic Council. Collectively, these organizations are referred to as “The Divine Nine.” Here are the nine:
- Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Founded 1906, Cornell University
- Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Founded 1908, Howard University
- Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Founded 1911, Indiana University
- Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Founded 1911, Howard University
- Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Founded 1913, Howard University
- Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Founded 1914, Howard University
- Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Founded 1920, Howard University
- Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Founded 1922, Butler University
- Iota Phi Theta Fraternity, Founded 1963, Morgan State University
Updated at 4:08 pm on 9/3/2020 to add the Divine Nine.