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100-Year-Old African American Sorority Leaves Its Mark

100-Year-Old African American Sorority Leaves Its Marki
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February 22, 2013
February is Black History Month in the United States. It draws attention and pays tribute to people, organizations and events that have shaped the history of African Americans and their contributions to American society. VOA's Chris Simkins reports on a black women's organization that has fought for civil rights and has made a difference in the lives of many for more than a century.

100-Year-Old African American Sorority Leaves Its Mark

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Chris Simkins
February is Black History Month in the United States. It draws attention and pays tribute to people, organizations and events that have shaped the history of African Americans and their contributions to American society. Delta Sigma Theta, a black women's organization, fought for civil rights and made a difference in the lives of many for over a century.

Members of Delta Sigma Theta sorority share a speical bond. For more than 100 years, the largest African-American sorority has stood the test of time. Aaro Jean Bell Reid - wearing the sorority's crimson and white colors - joined 11 years ago.

"It is about the cohesiveness of the sisterhood. It's about the shared desire for service and the commitment to service," said Reid.

Delta Sigma Theta was founded in 1913 by 22 women at Howard University in Washington. The sorority of college-educated women pledged to perform public service in the black community.

Gwendolyn Boyd heads the group's centennial celebrations. She says that, nearly six weeks after its founding, Delta Sigma Theta members took part in the historic Women's Suffrage March in Washington.

"Our founders were the only African-Americans in the suffrage march, and they did that marching for the rights of women to vote even before African-Americans had the right to vote. But they were visionary women knowing that, if they participated in that movement, that eventually that the rights for African-Americans would come," said Boyd.

The Deltas have participated in every major civil rights march since.  Vanessa Thomas says the organization is unique.

"That is what differentiates the Deltas. In the first place, is that our founders sought to make a difference. It is not just a social club for entertainment but, more importantly, to reach out and make a difference in our communities," she said.

For years the sorority's local chapters have funded programs providing assistance to persons in need and promoting academic excellence.

"We have our own individual projects where we work with young people and mentoring and preparing them for school and success. We also provide scholarships to young people to allow them to continue their pursuits for academic excellence," said Boyd.

For Francine and Cynthia Blake, the sorority has been part of their family for generations. 

"I am just high off Delta right now today at this moment," she said. "I have my sister here with me who is also a Delta and we joined the same chapter although I became a member before her but she is the oldest and fortunately I have a daughter who is also a Delta."

Today, Delta Sigma Theta has 260,000 members. For the next century, these sorority sisters say they will continue to leave their mark on black history while helping transform the lives of young people.

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