Divine Nine Greek Sorority and Fraternity Culture

Beta Pi Chapter of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc.

Showing How Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc. and other Divine Nine Organizations are Working to Improve Our Community.


Sigma Gamma Rho Serves Women of Phoenix

Project Reassurance is one of Sigma Gamma Rho’s eight national projects, which began as an effort to give financial and emotional support for expecting teen mothers.  Recently, it has grown into a larger mission that includes promoting good health for all ages and genders.

According to the Project Reassurance, the concern now is “Physical Health, Mental Health, Safe Communities, Protecting the Future.” At the center of the program are the H3’s; Healthy Choices, Healthy Living, for Healthy Generations. The idea is to educate people about health, so that they can make the best decisions toward living a healthy lifestyle and then in turn they will pass the knowledge and habits to their children.

The Beta Pi Chapter at Arizona State University focused on “Healthy Choices” for their Project Reassurance event Saturday. Since the event was held at umom, a shelter for homeless women and children in Phoenix, the ladies of Beta Pi decided that the best way to help support these women would be to instill more power within them through education. Many women within the shelter may feel helpless because of their situation, so the Beta Pi Chapter wanted to give them some control over choices they can make to elevate themselves.

The five members coordinated a complete healthy lunch catered by Subway and Sprouts for the mothers and their children.

The Officer Chief for Women’s Health at the Arizona Department of Health Services, Antoinette Means, spoke at the event about the latest health information concerning mothers and expectant mothers. Means urged the importance of a continued healthy lifestyle because when women become pregnant, past choices in poor health can affect a child, even if the mother receives prenatal care. Also, she addressed third-hand smoking, saying that studies have shown smokers leave residue on things they touch, and when a third party comes into contact with it, like a child, their health is at risk.

The second speaker, a private-practice physician Dr. Hollis Underwood, gave the women affirmations on what they could do to relieve stress and build self-esteem.

Each woman received a healthy gift bag from the Beta Pi Chapter, filled with personal care products with hopes of improving their emotional health by building their self-image.

Umom Parents Anonymous Facilitator Life Skills Coordinator Denise Shields wrote in an e-mail to Beta Pi after the event saying, “I just wanted to personally extend another ‘THANK YOU’ for such a kind heart.” Shield continued the e-mail, asking for the program to become an annual event at umom.

Beta Pi plans to make the event even larger next year so more women and children can be included.


“Muslims In America” Iota Phi Theta

Divine Nine Sororities and Fraternities were founded on Christian principles. However, members of Black Letter Organizations reflect all faiths and it should be noted that we are accepting of an array of religions.

The Beta Psi Chapter of  Iota Phi Theta at Arizona State University held a forum on “Muslims in America” to educate attendees on the teachings of the Qur’an.  A main discussion point was the recent media events concerning the threatened burning of the Qu’ran and building of the community center near Ground Zero.

The President of  the Beta Psi Chapter, Antione Jones is a reverted Muslim. Jones made his declaration to the Mosque last year. Jones said in the presentation on Tuesday that he proclaimed to the mosque “Allah was the only God,” by reciting a prayer in Arabic. Jones went through the basic teachings and five principles, as well as answering any questions candidly that audience members had.

Jones explained that Islam is a faith that accepts all people, as it was created as a religion for humanity. As explained by Jones, as long as a person feels that Allah (the name in Arabic for God) is the only God, then they are considered Muslim.

During the question and answer portion the Ground Zero mosque was brought up and Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. member LatTina Rencher said that she felt the community center should be built, and those who have a problem with its construction, because they fear terrorism, should make an effort to learn about Islam. Rencher felt that those who attacked the World Trade Center where not a true reflection of Islam.

Rencher makes a good point in that it is education that should be stressed in the the Ground Zero Mosque debate, as well as the burning of the Qur’an. That is where Black Letter Organizations step in and fill the void that the media leaves open.

Iota Phi Theta saw that these two issues where being covered without explaining what the faith of Islam is really about, and took the initiative to educate those around them who wanted to understand.

Is the Tradition of Step Trancending or Dissolving?

Due to, the predominantly white sorority, Zeta Tau Alpha‘s win in the 2010 Sprite Step Off over Divine Nine competitors, there is now a fear within the historically black organizations that the cultural significance of step is being lost. Outside organizations have been adopting it without demonstrating knowledge of the significance behind it.

Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc. member Briana Buckner said, “A lot of people do not understand black Greek life. You should know the history of something you’re trying to be a part of. Out of respect to those people whose traditions you are practicing, you should understand it; otherwise, you could be participating in something that may in reality stand for something that you disagree with.”

Author of the blog Fraternity Communications, Phillip L. Velez disagrees, Velez writes, “Some may say the win by an all-white female team from Arkansas minimizes something sacred to African-American fraternities and sororities, however I think it honors the organizations and the tradition. Unity step-show competitions may bring diverse organizations together and help promote Greek life in a manner never seen before.”

Diversity does not seem to be the issue here, but ignorance. Historically black organizations have continually accepted people of non-African American descent into their sororities and fraternities. It is the act of organizations practicing step, while being devoid of legitimate understanding for the background of the tradition.

According to the article Step into Step History, by Kiyanna Johnson, step originated from African minors who were forbidden to communicated with each other. Johnson writes, “They were isolated in almost total darkness wearing bandanas, no shirts, jeans and gumboots.”

Johnson writes that the minors created what was then called “gumboot dancing,”  to act as Morse Code as well as to express their pain. The article continues to say that later the Black Letter Organizations adopted the “gumboot dancing,”  renaming it step in the 1920s, as a way to create unity, and like the minors, express themselves.

Buckner said, “Even though it’s a historically black tradition, if a non-historically black organization can come and win, then black people are not doing their part. Diversity is good because it keeps competition interesting. If you see people stepping when it is not their tradition and they’re winning, it keeps people (within the Divine Nine) on their toes.”

Step, Distraction or Tradition?

Some critics have said step is a habit that takes away from the scholarship, leadership, and service that the Black Letter Organizations were created to promote. They blame the slant that the media has chosen to portray African American Sororities and Fraternities. The author of the article “Shattering the Misconceptions of the Divine Nine” Rasheed Ali Cromwel is one such voice that argues these images are tainting the image of black organizations. He blames popular movies that show partying and step to be the majority or only focus of the depicted organizations to be taken by the public as reality.

Although I think that some may have that perception of the organizations, I do not find that should be the biggest concern for the members of the Divine Nine. Reputations are built within the community through bonds and service. Instead of worrying about how those who know little to nothing about our organizations the concern should instead be about bettering the society around us. Our founders did not form these unions to get recognition, but instead to fix a void that no one else was willing to change. If we act dutifully then eventually perceptions will evolve. Until then the only opinions that matter are the ones we have of ourselves and those who came before us.

Step is a tradition that should not be expelled due to the ignorance of others. Black Letter Organizations are always going to face prejudices. My founders withstood the legitimate fear of violence or even death when they formed Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority Inc. at Butler University on November 12, 1922 down the street from the leader of the KKK. To those 7 women their well being was less important than serving their community educationally, civically, and economically. To now change our traditions because of mere criticism is cowardly. I believe our founders would want us to be true to ourselves. If we know beyond a doubt that our first priorities is aligned with the mission statement of our organizations than we should be allowed to participate in the tribute and self expression of step.