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The Divine Nine: Black Greek Letter Organizations and their historic impact

The Divine Nine
Posted at 11:12 PM, Feb 28, 2023

CLEVELAND — The steps and strolls are captivating, but the history of Black Greek letter organizations is rich and their contributions to our nation are dynamic.

The legacy started back in the early 1900s; Black people were denied equal rights, isolated and segregated on college campuses, and most certainly weren’t welcomed in fraternities or sororities. So Black folks created a lane of their own.

“They did it because it was a reason to join people together that look like me, that look like my husband in the early 1900s when no one else would pull us into their organization,” said Vikkie Pruitt Sorrells, Vice President of the National Pan-Hellenic Council of Greater Cleveland.

Today, we know it as the National Pan-Hellenic Council, or more commonly, The Divine Nine.

“What we’re here to do is establish a bond with African Americans to better the community and overcome the barrier of racial inequality,” said Anthonie Jackson, President of the National Pan-Hellenic Council on Cleveland State University’s campus.

There are five fraternities and four sororities in the NPHC.

The years the organizations were founded, their colors, Greek letters, hand signs, strolls and steps are all different and were formed to distinguish themselves from each other.

But the pillars that all nine organizations stand on are the same: academic achievement, brother or sisterhood and community service.

“Our members look at not only how they are able to develop as a person but how else can this be an avenue to do community service,” said Sorrells. “I love to do service and I wanted to do service and Sigma Gamma Rho was the avenue for which I could do it.”

The work the Divine Nine has done for more than a century has pushed Black people forward, so it’s not a coincidence that our country's Black changemakers are also members of the divine nine.

For example, Martin Luther King Jr. was a member of Alpha Phi Alpha, Shirley Chisholm was a member of Delta Sigma Theta, our nation's Vice President Kamala Harris is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha and Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb is a member of Alpha Phi Alpha.

But it's not just policymakers and political leaders, members within your own community are also members of the Divine Nine also, including staff members at News 5.

News 5 Evening Anchor Courtney Gousman is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.

Good Morning Cleveland Anchor Danita Harris is a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.

News 5 Reporter Remi Murrey is a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.

News 5 at 5 p.m. Anchor DaLaun Dillard is a member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc.

“I chose Kappa because they were the real deal movers and shakers on the yard, and I wanted to surround myself with other Black brothers who strive to achieve in everything they do,” said Dillard.

“Really, the members of the sorority were really down-to-earth women, genuine, authentic, but they were about their business and that was something that I thought that I wanted to be attached to,” said Harris.

In Gousman and Murrey’s case, they’re carrying on a legacy because both of their mothers are members.

“I knew from an early age that this was going to be the sorority for me,” said Murrey. “Even if she wasn't a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Incorporated, this sorority embodies everything that I strive to be as a woman."

“My entire life I have been surrounded by the women of pink and green and it started with my mom,” said Gousman. “I have had members, sorors, sisters across the country in which I have befriended just because we are in the same organization, because we wear the same colors, because we're a part of the same organization we often have that connection right away.”

A major distinction between the Divine Nine and other organizations is that the work doesn't stop after graduation; joining a Divine Nine organization is a lifelong commitment.

“If you stick with it, you will do more work for the organization, for the community as a graduate member,” said Sorrells. “We may start off as undergrad, undergrads are our lifeline no doubt, but the big impact a lot of times will come if you continue with it.”

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