In Chicago, HQ of AKA, proud soror­ity sis­ters of Ka­mala Har­ris get to work

Chicago Sun-Times - - TOP NEWS - MAUDLYNE IHEJIRIKA mi­he­jirika@sun­times.com | @maud­lynei

In Black soror­i­ties and fra­ter­ni­ties, sis­ter­hood and broth­er­hood run deep. You can go any­where, meet a stranger, and if the two of you share mem­ber­ship in a par­tic­u­lar or­ga­ni­za­tion in the “Di­vine 9,” as they’re called, you’re in­stant fam­ily.

So it is with Al­pha Kappa Al­pha Soror­ity Inc., the old­est and the largest Black soror­ity, founded on the campus of Howard Univer­sity in 1908. I pledged as a col­lege un­der­grad.

Be­cause of that sis­terly bond, when Demo­cratic vice pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee Ka­mala Har­ris gave our soror­ity a shout-out in her ac­cep­tance speech dur­ing last week’s Demo­cratic Na­tional Con­ven­tion, many AKAs na­tion­wide swooned.

Chicago is home to the na­tional head­quar­ters of AKA, at 5656 S. Stony Is­land Ave. in Hyde Park.

And it is also be­cause of that sis­terly bond that “sorors” na­tion­wide have been hard at work sup­port­ing a fel­low mem­ber who stepped into his­tory’s glare with the Aug. 11 an­nounce­ment by Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee Joe Bi­den that she was his pick.

Watch par­ties aplenty were planned last week, but sorors weren’t ex­pect­ing the honor be­stowed from a na­tional stage.

“The place went up in the air” when Har­ris cited her “beloved Al­pha Kappa Al­pha,” said 73-year-old Josephine Perry, an AKA and re­tired Chicago Pub­lic Schools teacher who at­tended a so­cially dis­tanced watch party for 16 at Bronzevill­e’s Bureau Bar & Restaurant.

“She has elec­tri­fied us to the point where I be­lieve every soul that’s con­scious will en­er­gize their house­hold and com­mu­nity to get out the vote and make a dif­fer­ence in this coun­try,” the Chatham res­i­dent said of Har­ris, who could be­come the first woman vice pres­i­dent.

“Un­der­grads com­ing into the soror­ity will know there are no lim­its to their po­ten­tial. A lot of en­ergy will be poured into this cam­paign by lots of Al­pha Kappa Al­pha mem­bers, surely,” Perry said.

The first Black Amer­i­can woman and first South Asian Amer­i­can to grace a ma­jor party ticket, Har­ris pledged AKA as an un­der­grad at Howard — one of the his­tor­i­cally Black col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties.

In her speech, the U.S. se­na­tor from Cal­i­for­nia, who’d run for pres­i­dent be­fore fold­ing her cam­paign in De­cem­ber, ad­di­tion­ally gave a shout-out to all HBCUs and all Black soror­i­ties and fra­ter­ni­ties.

“My re­ac­tion was, ‘Skee-Wee!’ I felt over­whelmed with hap­pi­ness,” said Mor­gan Waller, a 26-year-old AKA who lives in Burn­ham, evok­ing the soror­ity’s greet­ing call.

Waller and Perry are among dozens of Chicago-area women, many of them AKAs, who last week launched “Women 2 Win,” a

di­verse group de­voted to phone bank­ing and rais­ing $1 mil­lion to sup­port Har­ris.

“Just to be able to wit­ness the first Black woman vice pres­i­dent nom­i­nee, I’m so proud. She’s blaz­ing a trail for young women like my­self to con­tinue to make that dif­fer­ence in the world,” said the mil­len­nial Waller, a fi­nan­cial an­a­lyst and school board mem­ber at Thornton Frac­tional High School Dis­trict 215.

Har­ris grad­u­ated Howard in 1986, with a de­gree in po­lit­i­cal science and eco­nomics, be­fore at­tend­ing law school at the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, where she ob­tained her ju­ris doc­tor­ate in 1989.

The soror­ity men­tion came as Har­ris shared lessons im­parted by her late mother, Shya­mala Gopalan Har­ris, a bi­ol­o­gist who em­i­grated from In­dia in the early 1960s. It was at the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia at Berke­ley where her mother met her fa­ther, Don­ald Har­ris, who’d em­i­grated from Ja­maica.

“She taught us to put fam­ily first, the fam­ily you’re born into and the fam­ily you choose,” Har­ris said at the con­ven­tion. “Fam­ily is my hus­band . . . our beau­ti­ful chil­dren . . . Fam­ily is my sis­ter. Fam­ily is my best friend, my nieces and my god­chil­dren

. . . Fam­ily is my beloved Al­pha Kappa Al­pha, our Di­vine Nine, and my HBCU broth­ers and sis­ters.”

“It was amaz­ing! I was like, ‘We could all just flat­line right now,’” said Cook County Com­mis­sioner Donna Miller, an AKA who at­tended Howard at the same time as Har­ris, grad­u­at­ing a year af­ter her.

“But we can’t, be­cause we have to go get out the vote,” quipped Miller, 54, of Lin­wood, also in­volved with Women 2 Win. “We have to raise money. We have to make phone calls. With the pan­demic, voter sup­pres­sion and other ob­sta­cles afoot, we can’t take it for granted.”

AKA is a global ser­vice or­ga­ni­za­tion with more than 300,000 mem­bers and 1,000 chap­ters world­wide, boast­ing famed hon­orary mem­bers like Maya An­gelou, Coretta Scott King, Rosa Parks, Mae Jemi­son and Ali­cia Keys.

Some Women 2 Win mem­bers, like Tif­fany Harper, chief of staff and gen­eral coun­sel in the Chicago city trea­surer’s of­fice, are plan­ning to do more than just fundrais­ing and phone calls.

Harper plans to travel to swing states to pro­vide le­gal as­sis­tance for elec­tion pro­tec­tion.

“As Black women, we don’t often get to go through doors first or break down bar­ri­ers. It’s usu­ally a white woman or Black man that gets to go first,” said Harper, 37, of Bronzevill­e.

“On Wed­nes­day night, I was lit­er­ally run­ning around my house in tears, scream­ing. My mother is an AKA who has fought for civil rights, so to see our soror­ity that’s been so com­mit­ted to ser­vice and com­mu­nity and pro­tect­ing vot­ing and other rights for marginal­ized com­mu­ni­ties on that stage with her, it was a mo­ment of a life­time.”

Many noted they’re in a race with the cal­en­dar — the Nov. 3 elec­tion is only 2½ months away. But while hard at work to sup­port the Bi­den-Har­ris ticket, they bask in the glow of this soror’s al­ready his­toric achieve­ment.

“It was a proud and heart­warm­ing mo­ment to watch Sen. Har­ris stand on this in­ter­na­tional plat­form and share with the world how our or­ga­ni­za­tion has im­pacted her life. Her nom­i­na­tion and ac­cep­tance serves as a tes­ta­ment to our mis­sion to be of ser­vice to all mankind,” AKA Cen­tral Re­gion Di­rec­tor Sonya Bowen said.

“It was a pro­found mo­ment for AKA and has had a re­sound­ing im­pact on all of our mem­bers,” said Bowen, 52, of Rich­ton Park, a re­search ad­min­is­tra­tor. “Watch­ing [her] ac­cept her nom­i­na­tion as vice pres­i­dent of the United States was a his­toric mo­ment for Black women, and all women of color in Amer­ica.”

PRO­VIDED PHOTOS

Demo­cratic vice pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee Ka­mala Har­ris, then run­ning for pres­i­dent, greets sup­port­ers in­clud­ing fel­low Al­pha Kappa Al­pha mem­ber Josephine Perry (front) at a 2019 Chicago fundraiser. Perry is among dozens of area women, many of them AKAs, who launched “Women 2 Win” in sup­port of Har­ris.

Cook County Com­mis­sioner Donna Miller, a mem­ber of Al­pha Kappa Al­pha who at­tended Howard Univer­sity at the same time as Sen. Ka­mala Har­ris, chats with Har­ris last year.

Josephine Perry, 73, a re­tired Chicago Pub­lic Schools teacher and mem­ber of Al­pha Kappa Al­pha, with Sen. Ka­mala Har­ris at a Chicago fundraiser last year.

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