The Commercial Appeal

Delta Sigma Theta leaves mark on city

- By Scott Carroll

On any given weekend in Downtown Memphis, Mid-Southerner­s are likely to see a proverbial “lady in red” or two.

But during July Fourth weekend, they saw thousands of them.

From Thursday to Sunday, about 4,000 sisters of Delta Sigma Theta sorority, the largest African-American women’s organizati­on in the country, attended the group’s 43rd Southern Regional Conference at the Memphis Cook Convention Center.

Its members, clad in red shirts with the sorority’s Greek letters printed on them, buoyed Downtown business with their patronage and gave time and resources to local children’s agencies during their stay.

The sorority donated more than 5,000 books to family and children’s groups including Red Robin’s Academy of Learning in Midtown, Hope House day care in Midtown, St. Andrew AME Church and Child Care in Memphis, the Nat Buring Learning Center in Orange Mound and the Agape Child and Family Center.

On Thursday, the women read books to children at locations across Memphis, including the Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital resource center and the FedEx Le Bonheur House.

Terica Lamb, social action chair of DST Memphis’ alumnae chapter, said fostering education is a maxim of the sorority.

“We just know the importance of reading to children early on ... it just adds to a lifelong learning process when children are read to at an early age,” she said. “We felt like that was a worthy cause to get involved in.”

Buses transporte­d DST members — who came from Tennessee, Georgia, Mississipp­i, Florida and the Bahamas — around the city, where the sisters got involved in something else — Memphis culture and cuisine.

“Of course with Memphis being the barbecue city, we tried to find every restaurant in town,” said Lois Gilder, interim Southern regional

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With convention­s contributi­ng about $100 million to Memphis’ economy each year and bookings for convention­s up 12 percent from 2010, according to the Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau, businesses can feel the impact.

Tara Hutselle of Westy’s, a Southern-style restaurant at Jackson Avenue and North Main Street Downtown, said the eatery’s business doubled on Thursday, the sorority’s first day in town. The women flocked to the restaurant and others in the area after a collegiate step show at the Cannon Center, Hutselle said.

A party of about 100 DST sisters dined at B.B. King’s Restaurant and Blues Club on Beale Street the next day, Gilder said, while others toured the National Civil Rights Museum.

Mike Zupa, owner of Ferraro’s Pizza on Jackson Avenue, said that although his business saw only a small increase in revenue during the weekend, he was glad the convention was in town.

“They were super nice people,” he said. “They tipped well.”

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