NEWMAN: What Kamala Harris means to America’s first Black sorority


Kamala Harris’s official photograph as California Attorney General. Photo by the California Attorney General’s Office.

Morgan Newman

For many, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. (AKA) rings only the slightest of bells. When I mention that I am a part of the organization to non-Black people I often get confused stares or, occasionally, “oh the pink and green one!” But soon, it may become synonymous with presidential hopeful Kamala Harris. Harris, currently a Democratic senator from California, has a list of prestigious attributes, though perhaps one of her greatest is being a member of AKA. Harris crossed – joined – the Alpha chapter in the early 1980s at Howard University, a Historically Black College in DC, and became part of what is now a network of over 300,000 strong, college-educated Black women. Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. is more than a sorority; it is a legacy and a story of what it means to be Black and female in America.

Harris’ run for president is not a solitary one; in many ways, it is a collective and grassroots effort organized by her sorority sisters.

Founded in 1908 during the height of segregation and male-dominated milieu on the campus of Howard University in Washington DC, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. became the first Black Greek letter sorority. The purpose of Alpha Kappa Alpha is to alleviate social problems, particularly those concerning girls and women, in an effort to be of service to all mankind. Women of AKA have been leaders of movements, like Coretta Scott King and Rosa Parks; famous singers like Ella Fitzgerald; timeless poets like Maya Angelou; Hidden Figures like Katherine Johnson; and promising politicians like Kamala Harris.  Alpha Kappa Alpha has always been particularly involved in pushing for progressive legislation. Among other initiatives: in 1921, AKA pushed for anti-lynching legislation; in 1946, AKA acquired United Nations observer status; in the 1960s, the organization and its members were at the forefront of the Civil Rights Movement. Similarly to the experience of being a Black woman in America – which is to say, overlooked – many of Alpha Kappa Alpha’s accomplishments have often gone unnoticed. But this may change with Harris’ quest for the Oval Office.

When joining the organization, we are told that as sorority sisters, we are a collective. If one of us fails, we all fail. Likewise, if one of us succeeds, we all succeed. This holds true for Kamala Harris. Most members of AKA have never met her, and most never will. But we all have a bond with and trust in our sister. Harris’ run for president is not a solitary one; in many ways, it is a collective and grassroots effort organized by her sorority sisters. Kamala Harris represents what it means to be a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha, visibility and recognition of 111 years of service to all mankind.

Political views aside, there is still an undeniable bond that we all share with this woman who has chosen to be a leader

Perhaps one of the most significant impacts Kamala Harris’ campaign will have on Alpha Kappa Alpha is her ability to show the diversity of women within the organization, further demonstrating how the women of AKA have played significant roles in several different fields. Harris is from a mixed-race background, with immigrant parents and a grandmother who was an Indian diplomat. She grew up in Canada, attended a Historically Black College/University in Washington, D.C. and went on to become the second ever Black woman elected to the Senate. Her life and experiences are certainly unique, and yet she perfectly represents all members of Alpha Kappa Alpha. She is determined, passionate and unwavering in her pursuit to make her community a better place for all.

As members of AKA, we are taught to become a line, an inseparable unit. At the same time that we learn to become one and represent the same characteristics of our distinguished organization, we are taught the importance of individuality. We aren’t all the same and we don’t all believe the same. Realistically, not all 300,000 members of Alpha Kappa Alpha will vote for Kamala Harris in 2020. And that’s ok. Political views aside, there is still an undeniable bond that we all share with this woman who has chosen to be a leader and become a figure of self-determination in the face of adversity of being black and female in America.

Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. and its members have been working as servers to all mankind for over one hundred years. Through Jim Crow, through the Civil Rights Movement, through recessions and the Great Depression, through wars and through our ever-evolving society, AKAs have been trailblazers in the Black community. Our journey continues with Kamala Harris as she becomes the third black woman in America to ever run for a major-party presidential nomination, and our journey will continue long after as we aim to uplift and uphold the tenets first set by the organization over a century ago.

Morgan Newman is a senior in the College of Arts and Science. She can be reached at [email protected]