When I arrived at Howard after transferring from my first institution in Atlanta back at the dawn of the millennium I was astounded by all the cultural beauty that the college had to offer. It seemed like black women and men were really about their business here. Not only was I going to get skilled and improve my knowledge through the liberal arts, but I was also going to pick up a few tips in hustle-ology. It seems like everyone at this institution is on their grind, trying to be better than the next, trying to rise above the tension. The institution is a mixed bag of sorts, with a socioeconomically diverse class of black students all focused on one goal: success. Almost everyone has some sort of side project, campaign, business, product or something that they are working on and to be in such a driven environment was nurturing to me and just what I needed to academically kick myself in gear.
I remember the first person that I met at Howard was a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated. In the glory of her pearls and pink, she embodied the essence of their grace and really captivated me upon my first meeting with her. She helped me get situated on campus, gave me the ins and outs of my academic program, and explained to my why Howard would always be ten times better than Hampton. She told me about some of her sorority’s upcoming programs and invited me to attend. Now I knew very little about black Greek life upon my arrival at Howard; I had no members in my family and all of my schooling had been done in predominantly white southern public schools in Georgia, so I had never truly been exposed to the culture. But I learned quickly around these parts that being Greek was not just an extra pat on the back. It gives you privilege and esteem amongst your peers. You are seen as important and valuable. You become a novelty within your community. And the community respects you.
In some sense, I began to idolize the members of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority during the rest of my sophomore year at Howard. But not just for their smooth steps and their haughty confidence. I admired the work that the women were doing for Washington, DC, for their region, for the country. And by the end of my sophomore year, I knew that I wanted to be one of the few and the proud to make it into the fold.
Two of my roommates were also interests of the organization at the beginning of my junior year and doubled over in laughter when they started seeing me at their campus events and began to sense that I wanted to become a member.
“You know they ain’t gonna’ take you, right?” one of my roommates said. “You too black!”
I remember twisting my face in disgust and asking them, “What do you mean, I’m too black?”
“Girl, you know Alpha Kappa Alpha is only for pretty light-skinned chicks. You as black as night. They probably don’t even see you at the programs!” She chuckled.
“Just wait until they pull out the paper bag!” my other roommate sneered.
I grew hot with anger and stormed out of the room, locking my bedroom door behind me. I was upset at the fact that my roommates had no real justifications to disprove my interest. I had worked hard to get my grades up and be seriously involved with service. And I wasn’t just doing it to impress the members on my campus but because it was really in my heart. If my roommates had been telling me a valuable thing about my lack of qualification that would have been one thing I would have wanted to listen to. But to say that I wasn’t qualified because of my skin color and some exaggerated stereotype was another.
It’s been years since I had to deal with the greed, craziness, and competitiveness that is the interest world of Black Greeks, but I am proud to say today that I am an active member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated. And I didn’t let the fact that I am a beautiful chocolate brown sistah stop me from living my dreams. But when I reflect back to those days and remember what my roommates had told me, I realized that they had conveyed not only their rude attitudes but also their ignorance when it came to Black Greek life. So many people get wrapped up with the stereotypes, trying to appeal to some fantasized idea in front of their community to be accepted. The pretty girl. The ride-or-die chick. The cool girl with the jacket, the colors, the letters. Others catch the “me-too” syndrome when they see that many of their friends have crossed or started growing interest and they just want to tag along so they don’t feel left out, even though they lack the necessary drive, energy, and qualifiers to become a member of these organizations. Some just want to frolic and play, undermining the true value and sense that is enforced by these historic legacies. These confused nuances play to the faulty perception that we have as black women to conquer, cut, and divide in order to succeed. It helps to fuel the ugly nature that exists in stereotyping, a creepy under toe that often rears its ugly head when it comes to black collegiate life.
As Forest Whitaker says, “Stereotypes do exist but we have to walk through them.” I do not define myself by the questionable images that society has placed on my organization. I don’t see myself as a stuck up prissy girl, but rather as a beautiful brown woman who is confident and about her business. We are not just girls who spend hours upon hours looking in the mirror. We look good and we keep things moving. We are not out there to ruin the lives of other black girls. We uplift in our community and help build self-esteem for young women during the critical times when they need it most. We don’t just wear heels for the heck of it. We keep our heels high and our standards higher.
I did not seek out AKA or any other Divine Nine organization for the façades that people tend to overpump. And I didn’t just do it to be that dark skinned black girl who had something to prove. Rather I choose to negate those half-truths and show people through the way that I live my life what it really means to be a woman of Alpha Kappa Alpha. It means being regal in action and insightful through words. It means being confident in manner and persistent for change. It means being classy and loving all mankind. AKA ain’t just for the light-skinned chicks. It’s for the women who seek to rise above stereotypes that divide us as a race, and strive to create new paths that will unite us as one.
*Name changed for privacy.
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