I had the pleasure of attending the 2014 HBCUStory Symposium that was held in Washington D.C. this year. Dr. Crystal A. deGregory, founder and executive editor, gave her closing remarks and in these remarks left us with the resounding words, “Tell them your story. Tell them the story of greatness. Tell them the HBCUStory.” As the conference closed out and many reflected on the wonderful weekend, I began to think about this idea of the power of telling our stories. Often we know how important our stories are to us but don’t see how others may find our stories important. There are times we have heard other stories so rich and compelling that we feel our own story pales in comparison. So, we keep quiet. However, when we don’t tell our story, others tell it for us. When our stories are co-opted by those who have not really taken time to learn our stories, or when our stories have been unbalanced and designed to merely bolster stereotypes we find ourselves desperately fighting against mammoth skewed perceptions. As important as Dr. deGregory’s declaration was for HBCUs, it is also important for members of Black Sororities. It is important to make sure members of Black sororities are the ones telling their organizations’ histories. It is also important that we not only tell our collective histories but also our individual histories. Often, it is the individual history that can have the greatest impact. And inspired by Dr. deGregory’s words I was inspired to tell my story, the story of the women of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. in my life.
It started with my great Aunt Minnie. She is the first Delta I can remember knowing. She talked about her sorority with such pride. She carried herself with such stature and grace. She also gave so much of herself to others, to education, and to the HBCU she loved dearly. She showed me that Delta women were women of service and women of excellence. Growing up I would meet other Delta women who would reiterate that image. Like my 9th grade biology teacher Mrs. Pauls who even on dress down days wore her Delta Sigma Theta sweatshirt with jeans and high heel pumps. Mrs. Pauls would invite me and other young black girls to trips with her and her sorority sisters. We would go to plays, symposiums, and talks given by book authors and notable speakers. They always made us feel special. But there was one moment, where I would meet one particular woman of Delta that would have an impact on me that would last a lifetime. It is what I describe, as a defining moment in my life
A middle schooler, I had watched a PBS special on Spelman and Morehouse Colleges and had become completely enamored with Spelman. My mom knowing this, and wanting to get me on the path of thinking about where to go to college, somehow scored tickets to a nearby Spelman Alumnae luncheon though she was not an alumna herself. So me, my mom, my best friend, my best friend’s sister, and whoever my mom’s connect was, were sitting at our table hearing all about the great Spelman experiences of the alumnae present. When the keynote speaker got up and forever changed my world. The then Spelman president, Dr. Johnetta B. Cole was the most captivating, brilliant, beautiful, intelligent woman I had ever seen. She spoke with such passion and she was so inspiring, regal, and real. She was amazing. And she was a Delta. And from that day, from the moment I heard her speak, from the moment she shook my hand, called me “young sister” and encouraged me to keep achieving in academics, from that moment I knew I wanted to be a woman of excellence just like her. And if women like her, and my biology teacher, and my aunt Minnie, and the other amazing women in my life were Deltas, then I wanted to be the type of woman that Delta welcomed in her ranks.
So at the close of the HBCUStory conference I reflected. I reflected on being just a few seats away from that very woman who had such a great impact on my life. I reflected on how I can now say I am a PhD candidate studying HBCU leadership, due much to the life and legacy of that same phenomenal woman. I reflected on watching her share a moment of camaraderie and celebration with another brilliant, amazing scholar, and soror, Dr. deGregory. I reflected on the warmth of hugs of women I had just met. I reflected on a weekend filled with celebration, appreciation, and conversation with fellow HBCU scholars and colleagues. I reflected on how I was standing in a room with these women—women I admire, women I respect, and women I can now call colleagues. Women I can now call “soror”. So as I tell my story, I think of who will be the little girl I will impact with my presence? What young lady will challenge herself to be her greatest self because of her interaction with me? Who will be drawn to the light of Delta because of the way it shines in my life? Who will tell their story one day and call out my name in the telling of their journey, the way in which I called out Dr. Cole’s? As all of us, in our respective organizations move from day to day, with our work and our responsibilities, let us not get amnesia or mute voices. Let us tell our stories of triumph and achievement. Let us tell our stories of service and sisterhood. Let us remember to tell our stories. To etch them in the minds of people so they know the truth about who we are, what we do, and what we give. Yet, as we tell our stories, let us not forget to write new stories. Most importantly, let us not forget to help a young sister in writing her own.
About the Author
Felecia Commodore is a fourth year PhD student in Higher Education at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education. She has a background working as an admissions counselor and academic advisor at Trinity University, Washington, D.C. and University of Maryland, College Park respectively. Felecia obtained an M.A. in Higher Education Administration from the University of Maryland, College Park, MD and a B.S. in Marketing with a minor in Sociology from Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA. Felecia was recently a 2013 intern for the Southern Education Foundation. Felecia’s research focus area is HBCU leadership, governance, and administrative practices.