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The Divine 9: From MLK to today

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Posted at 5:21 AM, Feb 27, 2019
and last updated 2019-02-27 18:33:42-05

The very mention of Greek life comes with a certain visual and set of assumptions: Red Solo cups. Beer bongs. Loud parties.

The Divine 9 is different.

The National Pan-Hellenic Council, colloquially known as the Divine 9, is comprised of nine historically founded African-American sororities and fraternities.

They're not about parties and beer in red cups. According to members, these groups help them build a lifestyle that goes beyond college.

The Divine 9 includes:

The organizations that make up the Divine 9 gather in unique ways. On a recent Saturday morning in Over-the-Rhine, members of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity could be found shooting hoops and cultivating relationships in the community with members and others in the area.

“I believe there’s over 100 kids that are here every week,” said Marcus Bethany, a member of the Beta Iota chapter of the Omega Psi Phi fraternity. “It’s just so important for them to see that there are people who have their back as they go through their everyday challenges.”

Meanwhile, members of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority gathered on an early February weekend to enjoy a relaxing brunch with intimate conversation -- all for a good cause.

“For this particular event, we’re hoping to raise about $15,000, but over the course of our 30-year history, we’ve been able to award over $300,000 in scholarships and awards to the community youth,” said Mia Sears, president of Cincinnati Queen City Alumnae chapter of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority.

No matter the letters or colors of the organization, the missions are the same: community service, advocating for equal rights, mentoring youth and generating scholarship funds to provide a chance for those in need to gain post-secondary education.

“Our colors are our own little niche, I guess, would probably be a good way to say it, but take the colors off,” said Tracy Turney-Smith, president of the Phi Psi Omega chapter of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority. “If we all came in here in the same color we all are about the same thing.”

Members of the Divine 9, historically, strive to impact communities locally, nationally and internationally through their work and message. Some familiar names still resonate through the crackling pages of their history: Martin Luther King Jr., Langston Hughes, Rosa Parks and Shirley Chisholm all belonged to Greek organizations within the Divine 9.

Although other movements have formed since the organizations began, they still look to have a place in the fight for equality.

“They were founded because of the needs and the Civil Rights Movement at the time,” said Shawnda DeRamus, president of the Cincinnati Alumnae chapter of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority. “But, when you look at the same issues that caused those organizations to come about, those issues are still pertinent in our communities today.”

Members may not always march on Washington, D.C., today, but the fight for equality resonates through the Divine 9. The scholarship money they work to generate each year provides a future for many minorities through higher education and broadened experiences. Chapter meetings provide a strengthened sense of community and support for members as they learn to navigate the challenges of young adulthood and life beyond.

“People are looking for someone to lead, and oftentimes members of these organizations have answered that call,” said Derrick Robertson, president of the Greater Cincinnati chapter of the National Pan-Hellenic Council and a member of the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity.

These Greek organizations focus on providing a sense of place, identity and comfort for members that extends far past the stereotypes pervading the perception of Greek life.

Although the fight for civil rights has changed, the modern reality of these organizations still embodies a fighting spirit. They fight to provide a brighter future for incoming generations, and they fight to provide a safe, nurturing community for current members from all walks of life.

“Outside of just being something that we do in college, we’re always trying to make sure that our community flourishes,” said La’Shaunda Ewing, a member of the Epsilon Lamda Sigma chapter of the Sigma Gamma Rho sorority.

Robertson emphasizes that although the Divine 9 are historically African-American, members of all races and cultures are welcome. College graduates are welcome as well, and members remain active well into older age.

There's one thing all members are sure of, however: The NPHC isn’t going anywhere and they will continue to work to accomplish their missions in communities all around the world.

The Divine 9 has staying power that will keep its member organizations relevant and relied upon for decades to come, said Robertson.