After a Nashville teacher made headlines for removing a shirt featuring Black sorority letters from a white student, conversations have emerged regarding how the situation should have been handled. However, she and other members of the Divine Nine, the organization comprised of Black sororities and fraternities, believe that the letters are not only significant to its members but also part of Black history.
The issue arose after the student was brought to school wearing the shirt with the Alpha Kappa Alpha, Sorority Inc. Once her teacher, a member of the sorority, noticed the child infringing upon the school’s dress code as well as disrespecting her organization, she promptly removed the article of clothing from the child.
In response to the incident causing a public reaction, the Metro Nashville Public Schools released a statement affirming that the shirt did violate the dress code but should not have been taken off the child without parental approval.
“The school will follow the district’s employee relations process and counsel the staff member on appropriate conduct in these regards,” shared a spokesperson on behalf of the school district to CNN.
Some naysayers disapproved of the teacher’s intense response to removing the shirt from the elementary student. Others, especially Divine Nine members, understood her course of action given how protective they are of the organization built out of discrimination and a desire to enact change within and for the Black community.
Lawrence Ross, author of The Divine Nine: The History of African American Fraternities and Sororities, spoke to CNN about the collective organizations’ longstanding input and impact in activism on behalf of Black people.
While traditional white sororities and fraternities excluded Black people from seeking membership, the Divine Nine was born out of a service mission and promoted as organizations for Black co-eds to join and be a part of a new legacy.
As membership expanded, including prominent world leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and, more recently, Vice President Kamala Harris, so has its attention and accessibility. While Black non-members have received criticism from the groups for wearing their paraphernalia, either for acting roles or just for show, the members have maintained that the letters are a testimony to their pledge of lifelong service.
“It’s a big deal,” said Ross, a member of Alpha Phi Alpha, Fraternity Inc. “There’s a level of dedication that goes with becoming a member … You’re pledging yourself to work on behalf of your community with those representing something larger than yourself. And it takes a lot of hard work and sacrifice to do so.”
The Divine Nine has fostered its own sector of Black cultural remembrance, tradition, and celebration and hopes to be respected within and beyond its community. Ross explains that their continued work and advocacy for Black people should be protected, and that notion is essential to grasping their true purpose.
“All of these things are culturally relevant; you should listen to understand,” he said. “You can’t understand what our devotion is and has been in the Black community … without understanding the Divine Nine.”
Source: Black Enterprise