City welcomes members of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority
The ladies of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. received a warm Winston-Salem welcome at the Benton Convention Center last Thursday, the opening day of AKA’s four-day Mid-Atlantic Regional Conference.
“Tonight begins a full weekend of business and sisterly function of the women of the Mid-Atlantic Region of this grand sisterhood,” Mid-Atlantic Region Director Dr. Linda Gilliam told the more than 2,500 people on hand at the conference’s pubic meeting.
AKA sorors were greeted by members of their fellow African American sororities and fraternities and local elected officials, including Mayor Allen Joines, who read a proclamation temporarily declaring a portion of downtown Fifth Street as “Alpha Kappa Alpha Way.”
U.S. Rep. Mel Watt, whose wife, Eulada Paysour Watt, is an AKA, addressed attendees, as did AKAs State Sen. Earline Parmon, State Rep. Alma Adams and Maivian Burke, who praised the sorority’s tradition of mentoring and empowering women.
“As I sat there and thought about our founders, they would sit there and say ‘well done’ to us,” Burke said.
City Council Member Dan Besse, N.C. Supreme Court Justice Paul Newby and State Rep. Ed Hanes were among the prominent guests who watched the program from the crowd. Winton-Salem’s “City of the Arts” moniker was driven home during the public meeting. Performances by the Otesha Creative Arts Ensemble and the Winston-Salem State University Choir, led by D’Walla Simmons Burke, were well received, and visiting sorors were invited by the National Black Theatre Festival’s Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin to come back to Winston-Salem later this year to take in the 2013 NBTF.
The conference was jam-packed with events, many of them focused on community service.
“Alpha Kappa Alpha is an organization of women who have consciously chosen this association and service as a means of self-fulfillment,” AKA International President Carolyn House Stewart .
A youth summit was also held on the opening day, offering local young people a chance to explore topics like college preparation and healthy relationships.
Stewart said the Mid-Atlantic Region, which includes AKA chapters in North Carolina and Virginia, has a rich history, having twice hosted the sorority’s international gathering, or boulé. The boulé will return to the region in July 2014 when sorors will gather in Charlotte.
Winston-Salem also has a rich AKA history. The sorority’s 20th international president was city native Dr. Barbara K. Phillips. Her widower, Garret Elroy “Roy” Phillips Jr., accepted an honor at the meeting.
Phillips said he was glad to support his wife and the AKAs. He also recalled the perks that came with his wife’s lofty position. They dined at the White House and travelled extensively, meeting many icons of the time.
“I did support my wife, but I got a lot out of it,” he said with a smile.
Others received honors as well. Vivian Burke was recognized for her social justice work; Dr. Stephanie Ferguson, director of Community Nursing Organization at Virginia Commonwealth University, was honored for her health policy achievements; Charlotte educator Yvonne Simmons Pettiswas honored for being an advocate for seniors, children and families; and Dr. Donald Reaves, chancellor of Winston-Salem State University, whose Gamma Lambda AKA chapter has always been active, also accepted an award.
The Winston-Salem graduate chapter of the sorority, Phi Omega, hosted the conference with several other
North Carolina chapters.
Founded in 1924, Phi Omega is the oldest graduate chapter in the state and currently has 140 members. Chapter President Candice Wooten Brown, who chaired the public meeting, gave the conference high marks.
“…To see such a large assembly of professional, well-respected women in their community, all assembled for a common purpose, is really inspiring,” she said.
AKA, established in 1908, is the oldest greek letter organization established by black college women. It currently has more than 250,000 members in 900 chapters in the United States and other countries. House Stewart said that in 2012, AKAs gave 1.2 million hours of service to their communities and donated more than $4 million to charitable causes.