A recent incident at McGavock Elementary School in Nashville has brought to light a nuanced discussion about the use of Greek-lettered paraphernalia.
Seven-year-old student Peyton Tiger was reportedly asked to remove her shirt that displayed the symbols of Alpha Kappa Alpha (AKA), a historically Black sorority. Interestingly, the teacher who made the request was a sorority member herself.
The teacher confiscated the shirt because the student was not a sorority member. Peyton’s mom reveals that the shirt was a hand-me-down from a friend, and she liked the clothes because of the colors.
The Divine Nine: A Historical Overview
As per CNN, these organizations are:
– Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., founded in 1906
– Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., founded in 1908
– Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc., founded in 1911
– Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc., founded in 1911
– Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., founded in 1913
– Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc., founded in 1914
– Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc., founded in 1920
– Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc., founded in 1922
– Iota Phi Theta Fraternity, Inc., founded in 1963
These organizations have played an instrumental role in shaping African-American history and culture in the United States. Since their inception, they have served as hubs for African-American students and professionals.
They have provided a sense of community, mentorship, and support, often in predominantly white institutions where African Americans were, and at times continue to be, underrepresented.
Taking a leading role in numerous civil rights movements and community service initiatives, these associations have been instrumental in driving change. Members of Alpha Phi Alpha, for instance, were key players in the Civil Rights Movement, including Martin Luther King Jr. and Thurgood Marshall.
Similarly, members of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. participated in the Women’s Suffrage Procession in Washington, D.C., in 1913, advocating for women’s right to vote.
More recently, during the 2020 Presidential Election, Kamala Harris, a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., broke multiple barriers. She received the historical distinction of being the first woman, the first Black woman, and the first person of South Asian descent to be elected Vice President of the United States.
Beyond political activism, these organizations contribute significantly to community service and philanthropy. For example, the Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc. launched the ‘Swim 1922’ initiative in partnership with USA Swimming to increase swim participation and decrease drowning rates in the African-American community.
Why are Greek Letters Important?
Members of these fraternities and sororities view their Greek letters with deep reverence. They are considered symbols of values, traditions, and shared history.
The right to wear these symbols is earned through an intense initiation process, signifying a powerful representation of membership and community identity.
When they are used by non-members, the Divine Nine community rejects them. That’s why incidents such as the one involving Peyton Tiger and her teacher have led to online discussions about respect for the symbols.
The Cultural Dimensions at Play
After the incident came to light, the school administration took swift action. They apologized and returned the confiscated shirt to Peyton Tiger. They clarified that the shirt fell foul of the school dress code due to the text on it, but acknowledged that the teacher should have referred the matter to the administration rather than confiscate the item.
The reactions underscore the cultural dynamics at work within historically Black Greek-letter organizations. Greek letters and symbols are not merely decorative; they carry significant weight and are earned through rigorous initiation rites.
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This article was produced by TPR Teaching.
Caitriona Maria is an education writer and founder of TPR Teaching, crafting inspiring pieces that promote the importance of developing new skills. For 7 years, she has been committed to providing students with the best learning opportunities possible, both domestically and abroad. Dedicated to unlocking students' potential, Caitriona has taught English in several countries and continues to explore new cultures through her travels.