The year was 1912 when twenty two African American women came together on the campus of Howard University to start Delta Sigma Theta, a sorority dedicated to serving others. By then, over 5000 African Americans had been lynched, with sixty-one being lynched in that year alone. The National Urban League was started the year before 1912, and the NAACP started three years before that. In 1912, segregation was legal in the United States, and the great migration of Southern African Americans to the north with hopes of living a better life had began. By the time our founders stood on the steps of Howard University in 1913 to pose for the infamous Founder’s Day picture, Harriet Tubman was in her final days — she died on March 10, 1913 — while Rosa Parks had yet to be born.
Two months after posing for the infamous founder’s day picture, our sorors participated in the Women’s Suffrage march that occurred on a rainy day in Washington, D.C., in March of 1913. But because of the legalized Jim Crow laws in place at that time, our founders were required to march at the very back of the line.
Living in these times, could not have been easy for our founders. It’s no wonder that they had social change and service to others on their minds as they founded our beloved sorority, Delta Sigma Theta. And although Martin Luther King had not been born, and it would be decades before he delivered his I Have Dream speech, I’m sure our founders dreamed. I imagine they dreamed of a better future for themselves, their families, and the African-American community. They were Renaissance women who dreamed of change, I’m sure, and dedicated their lives to serving others. I’m sure they dreamed that African Americans would be educated in greater numbers and have adequate housing; that the lynching would stop, and that Blacks would no longer be discriminated against. Like so many others did in 1912, they probably placed their hopes and dreams in the election of President Woodrow Wilson, who promised to help African Americans with their fight for justice, but then changed his mind after being elected and promptly fired most of the African American government supervisors. In 1912, there was an urgency of change in the hearts and minds of African Americans, and I believe our founders wanted the same as they formed Delta Sigma Theta. I believe they decided that by serving others, they would be the change that they wanted.
It’s been ninety seven years since our founders posed for the Founder’s Day picture. There are now 275,000 Deltas and 990 chapters, stretched across the United States, Europe, and Asia. Barack Obama is now the first African American president of the United States. “Yes We Can,” rings from the White House, and our president has called for us all to do our part. Deltas continue to work, individually and collectively, to improve our communities with the Delta ideals of service buried deep in our hearts.
Now the year is 2009. Yet, still, these are disturbing times: Over 50 percent of the homeless population is African American. Over 50 percent of the prison population is African-American. Over 50 percent of the new Aids cases are African American. HIV/AIDS is the leading killer of African American women ages 18 to 35, and African Americans are 21 more times likely to die from HIV/AIDS as non-Hispanic white women. Our teens are 50 times more likely to drop out of school. In 2009, I, like our founders, want the lives of African Americans to improve. It gives me comfort to know that I’m not alone: That 275, 000 Deltas, near and far, have the same values of sisterhood and service buried deep in their hearts. I just pray that we all understand that the call to service is urgent. These are disturbing times. Let’s continue to make our founders proud.
Soror Meme Kelly
MEET MEME KELLY
MEME KELLY is President of JGS Communications and Sisters Supporting Sisters, a 501 (c) (3) non-profit, whose mission is to SHOUT (Shine Your Light, Have Hope, Overcome, Use God’s Power, and Take Charge) for disabled young adults, women facing severe challenges and at-risk youth. Meme is also an author and publisher of several books and playwright of Shout, a play. The SHOUT is also an inspirational seminar designed to unleash one’s power during challenging times and has been presented at homeless shelters, transition and juvenile detention facilities, community based organizations, churches, bookstores, retreats, and at inner city schools.
Meme received her B.A. degree from UCLA, is a member of Delta Sigma Theta sorority, and says her life mission is to inspire and entertain with the written word and to serve others. She is the wife of Rennie Kelly and the mother of three sons, Rennie Jr., Corey, and Austin.
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About the book
As readers turn the pages of Shout Out Above Life’s Storms I have Wings to Fly, they’ll share an exciting journey with Emma Kurtail, Esq., and her friends Joan, Marla and Shelly “the Wing girls — as they face betrayal, overcome addiction, hold on to hope, and heal child hood wounds. And live the principals of the SHOUT — Success, Have Hope, Overcome Obstacles, Use God’s Power and Take Charge.
They are women determined to fly above life’s storms, knowing that regardless of the difficulties they face, their strength will be renewed. Emma faces a crisis, Shelly, a secret, Marla, low-self esteem, and Joan, the ghost of her past, putting them On Edge (the beginning of the trilogy). Yet, still, they JUST GOTTA SHOUT and put on their Wings to Fly.
Madree Penn White – was the driving force and inspiration behind Delta Sigma Theta. She is originally from Atchison, Kansas but moved to Omaha, Nebraska. Mrs. White drafted the constitution and set of by-laws. She also selected the Greek letter symbols and created the initiation ritual. She was the first female to be on the Howard University Journal’s staff as editor. She also was the Founder and President of the Triangle Press Company in St. Louis, Missouri.