Organizers make final touches for upcoming regional gathering
The ladies of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. will be painting the town their trademark pink and green next month.
More than 2,500 AKAs are expected to convene at the Benton Convention Center for the Mid-Atlantic Region’s 60th anniversary conference April 4-7.
“It is business not as usual, but to a higher degree. We are always ensuring that we are living out our mission, and that is service,” said Dr. Linda Gilliam, regional director of the Mid-Atlantic Region, which represents 124 chapters in North Carolina and Virginia. “…It’s always a milestone in the organization when you’ve sustained yourself for 60 years and we’re still doing the service on which we were founded.”
The conference will include a Youth Summit for youth in grades 6-9 and a Public Meeting and Reception, where six community members will be honored for their service in partnership with the sorority, including the coveted Citizen of the Year award. Soror Kenyetta Richmond, chair of the Public Reception Committee, said the reception and meeting would allow nonmembers a chance to see beyond the Greek letters and step shows to the heart of the organization.
“We really want to engage the public here in Winston-Salem,” commented the Winston-Salem State University alumna. “…We’re giving them an opportunity to see what it is that we actually do. We’re about giving back to our community and working for our community as a whole.”
The Youth Summit, which is hosted by Wake Forest University and free to participants, will be centered around developing leadership skills, developing healthy relationships and preventing youth from becoming victims of human and sex trafficking as part of AKA’s MINDS (Merciful Intervention Now Demands Safety) Campaign to abolish the crime.
“The average age of entry for prostitution in America is 12-14 years-old, so that’s why we’re targeting middle school kids,” explained Wake Forest University alumna Keshia Martin, chair of the Publicity Committee. “It’s timely because the NC Senate just passed a bill about human trafficking (that will require perpetrators to register as sex offenders).”
International President Carolyn House Stewart has identified human trafficking as a focus of the sorority’s Social Justice and Human Rights Initiative, one of six broad issues the organization has vowed to address during her four-year tenure. The problem is growing in America. An estimated 14,500-17,500 people are trafficked into the country each year, earning America the dubious distinction of being among the top three human trafficking hubs in the world. North Carolina is home to the eighth largest trafficking industry nationwide.
“Human trafficking is not something that happens on foreign soil,” Gilliam stated. “It’s right here in the U.S. – it’s right here in Winston-Salem – and the more we know about human trafficking, the more we are able to stand up against it and decrease it.”
Conference attendees are being asked to bring school supplies to donate to Family Services Inc. and Family Services of the Piedmont in support of children of incarcerated parents. Gilliam, a retired educational administrator and adjunct professor at the University of Richmond, said she thinks her sorors will be pleasantly surprised by the changes that have taken place in the city since their last local conference a decade ago.
“I was truly surprised,” she said, referencing the ongoing revitalization efforts in the downtown area. “It’s a nice walking feel, and I think that’s going to be surprising to the ladies when they come here. I think it’s going to be nice.”
The local community will benefit not only from the sorority’s outreach efforts, but from the significant economic impact the convention – which is slated to be the largest Gilliam has seen in her tenure – will have on the city, Gilliam said.
“We’re going to bring in millions of dollars,” said the Richmond, Va. resident. “The ladies come, and when they come they spend money. We bring lots of pink and green and a lot of green (money) too.”
Being a part of organizing the convention in her hometown has been particularly rewarding for Martin, a doctoral student at UNC Greensboro.
“When it comes to Winston, I almost feel like it’s coming home,” she said, noting that Joanna Berry Shields, one of the organization’s founding members, was a teacher at Slater Normal School, now Winston-Salem State University. “We have so much rich Alpha Kappa Alpha history in Winston that a lot of people don’t know about.”
Gilliam said the convention seeks to educate, invigorate and empower all those it touches, and when it comes to setting a good example, the ladies of AKA are happy to take the lead. It’s a more than century old tradition that the grandmother of six says has only gotten stronger with time.
“I really believe that because we are an organization of service that has kept us alive because our communities are fighting some of the same fights that existed when our founders founded Alpha Kappa Alpha in 1908,” she declared. “…Our founders founded this organization to uplift a race of people and we cannot let that down. We have to be a voice for the voiceless and a hand to the helpless.”
For more information about the Mid-Atlantic Region of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.’s 60th anniversary celebration, contact Martin at firstname.lastname@example.org or 336-965-3586. Registration for the Youth Summit on Thursday, April 4 is required. For more information, visit https://register.eventarc.com/13409/mid-atlantic-regional-youth-summit. Registration ends March 22.