The oldest black sorority is more than just pink, green and parties.
Greek letter organizations have a storied history on and off American college campuses, and Detroit native Carrie Clark was recently named regional director of the oldest black sorority in existence, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. "I'm just glad that the members of my region felt that I was the person to do the job, and it's a major honor, to be honest," Clark says. She'll oversee the Great Lakes region – home to about 4,500 members – which includes Michigan, Ohio, Western New York, Western Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Her new role will charge her with making sure new programs and service projects are being implemented, membership intake, organizing workshops and retreats, and she'll be at the helm of the annual regional conference slated for Detroit in April, which could attract 2,000 members. "Literally, it's a 24-hour job," Clark says.
Clark was initiated into AKA at Eastern Michigan University. She makes a point to say that the org prefers "initiate" in lieu of "pledge" – perhaps to avoid negative perceptions. "Those relationships that I had 30 years ago, I still have today. Those are women that have seen me grow, I've seen them grow. And the relationships and the sisterhood that is formed as a result of joining a sorority – especially with Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority – it just kind of gives you a different extension of a family that you can rely on, that you can depend on," Clark says. Of course, she was familiar with the idea of Greek life before making it to EMU, but she immediately connected to AKA's environment, she says, and to the ladies, "not only with what they were doing on campus and in the community, but we had like minds, we had a lot of things in common."
Michigan alone has over 30 different chapters, and Clark encourages those interested in joining AKA to do their research. "I tell them, 'Go to all the chapter meetings and find out what's the right personality for you,' because they all have different flavors." It's a lifelong commitment, from undergraduate to graduate school and beyond. On campus, she says, older members are close by guiding and teaching, but when you transition, "everybody's contributing." It's really time to show what you can bring to the organization, and what you get out is directly proportionate to what you put in, Clark says. "I think it becomes more demanding. I think it becomes what you make it. Now you're meeting a lot of prominent, dynamic women of color that are in high-power positions. The sisterhood is still the same at the core, but when you start to look at the opportunities for you, it changes dynamically." For her, she says, "I never knew years down the road I would be sitting in this role. God had a divine order. One opportunity led to another, and here I am."
From the outside looking in, people have an idea of what they think a sorority is: elitist, exclusionary, superficial and, of course, there's the hazing. Officially, AKA – along with most Greek letter organizations – has a zero-tolerance, anti-hazing policy. Still, most people have a story they pull out at parties about something crazy happening to someone they know – or to themselves. My aunt – an Alpha Kappa Alpha member – tells of not being allowed to bathe or comb her hair during "Hell Week," for example. "The hazing allegations, unfortunately, does not help our cause. It takes away from all the good work that we're doing. Those are minor cases compared to hundreds of thousands of people that we bring into the organization," Clark says.
She'd like to dispel other negative notions. "People looking in, they think of us as a partying organization, but we have thousands of hours to prove that we do more than just socialize when we are together; we truly make a difference not just in our respective communities but across the world. We've been around for 110 years. My hope and my dream is that we'll be around for another 110-plus, doing the work that our founders started this organization on, and that is to be of service to all mankind."