Watch 13,000+ Black women cheer VP Kamala Harris as she issues a call to activism in OrlandoJuly 16, 2022
These clips from Alpha Kappa Alpha’s official social media accounts illustrate the joy and celebration around the VP’s appearance. The second wave of applause—around eight seconds in—is particularly potent.
From a different angle, we see how determined attendees are to capture their own proof that they were there, everyone’s phones are up and recording.
Many people outside of the Black community are unaware of the power and importance of “Black Greek” fraternal and sororal organizations, going back to the founding of the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity in 1906, and the AKAs two years later. I wrote about that history for Daily Kos back in 2019.
In that story, I included this 2006 documentary from Derek Fordjour and Jamar White about the founding of Black sororities—and their long history.
You can explore the history of each organization in the Divine Nine and the National Pan-Hellenic Council; more than half were founded at Howard.
There are nine historically Black Greek letter organizations (BGLOs) that make up the NationalPan-Hellenic Council. Collectively, these organizations are referred to as “The Divine Nine.” Each of these fraternities and sororities is rich in history – ties to one or more of these organizations may be found in many college-educated Black families in the United States.
- Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Founded 1906, Cornell University
- Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Founded 1908, Howard University
- Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Founded 1911, Indiana University
- Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Founded 1911, Howard University
- Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Founded 1913, Howard University
- Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Founded 1914, Howard University
- Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Founded 1920, Howard University
- Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Founded 1922, Butler University
- Iota Phi Theta Fraternity, Founded 1963, Morgan State University
Excluded over the years from white organizations, Black college students and graduates fostered our own power networks, numbering among them members like Langston Hughes and W.E.B. Du Bois, civil rights leaders like Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Septima Clark, Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, congresswomen like Shirley Chisholm and Barbara Jordan, and author Toni Morrison. All of these heroes and so many more were members of Black Greek organizations. Vice President Harris continues that tradition—along with many members of the Congressional Black Caucus.
As Democrats—as progressives—it is important to recognize and highlight not just the ills that we currently face; we need to acknowledge and celebrate the joy and wellspring of commitment illustrated in this gathering of amazing Black women.
You can watch Vice President Harris’ entire speech below.
For those of you who cannot watch or hear the speech, check out these excerpts from the White House’s official transcript of her wide-ranging remarks.
Harris spoke to the history of the AKAs:
Just think: In the year 1908, when our sorority was founded, 89 Black people were lynched across the country. Just think: At the time of the founding of our sorority, American life was deeply segregated.
When [AKA founder] Miss [Ethel Hedgeman] Lyle attended Howard, less than a quarter of the students were women. And yet, despite all of this, and perhaps because of it, she believed in the power of sisterhood and in the power of service to create desperately needed social and legal change — beliefs that guide us all to today.
Our legacy is service to all mankind, and our work in Mississippi alone over the last 87 years is a perfect example.
During the Great Depression, our sorors provided free medical care to poor Black women in the Mississippi Delta. (Applause.) And generations later, many of you here ran vaccination drives in those same communities during the COVID pandemic. (Applause.) It’s but one example of so many.
On AKAs’ voting activism:
In the year 2020, our sorority proved this yet again. Our sorority registered more than 250,000 people to vote. (Applause.) Our sorority teamed up with our Divine Nine sisters and strolled to the polls — (laughter and applause) — indeed — and with the entire Divine Nine to combat voter suppression.
On Black maternal mortality, and maternal health:
Together, we said we must fight to address the current challenges we face as a nation and that we are prepared to lead on issues like the Black maternal health crisis in our country. (Applause.) Because we know Black women are three times as likely to die from pregnancy-related causes, and we know women in rural America are more than one and a half times more likely to die.
So, after the election, the President and I and all of us elevated the issue of maternal health to a national priority, building on the work that we did together over the years.
In fact, for the first time, we hosted the women most impacted — Black women, rural women, Native women — to the White House to discuss — get this — at the White House to discuss the importance of doulas — (applause); to discuss and speak up and out about the issues of fibroids — (applause); post-partum depression; and the barriers to care for women of color and rural women. (Applause.) Because we’re not going to be quiet when we know there is a role and a need for us to serve.
And through the work we have done together, we’ve dedicated resources to hire and train doulas. We have done the work of funding research to address the biggest contributors to maternal mortality, and to advance and speak about the need to advance culturally competent care. (Applause.)
Through the work that we did together on this issue, we have now got to the point where we have encouraged — in a positive way — encouraged states — urged them, cajoled them to understand that Medicaid postpartum coverage should not just be 2 months, it should be 12 months. (Applause.) Because the women who require and count on Medicaid coverage require that, after giving birth to a human being — (laughter) — that their needs are recognized for beyond just the first 2 months. And this will benefit over a quarter million women as of today. (Applause.)
On the child tax credit:
Together, we all said we must help our children reach their God-given potential. And so our administration extend — extended the Child Tax Credit, which lifted up nearly 40 percent of Black children in America out of poverty just last year alone. (Applause.)
We recognized working people are struggling and, in particular, when it comes to covering the cost of their basic needs, including the cost of raising a child. So we passed a tax cut to give working families a tax cut of up to $8,000 a year, which gives folks more room in their budgets to buy food, medication, and school supplies for their children.
On clean water and lead pipes:
We’ve been traveling the country. Many of you have joined me in different places in our country to talk about the longstanding, very serious problem of lead pipes, where our babies are being forced to drink toxic water, having well documented, then, health consequences, including consequences to their ability to learn.
So, together, we did the work to remove lead pipes. We are in the process of doing that to ensure that no child has to drink water poisoned with lead, and to make sure that we, again, are doing everything we can, understanding our children — God has given them so much capacity, but we here, on Earth, must do our part to make sure they are protected and can live in an environment that allows them to thrive.
On high-speed internet access:
Which is why, together, we have also addressed the issue of high-speed Internet. Because I know there are a whole lot of folks here right now who know what that pandemic meant to your child’s ability to learn and go to school — (applause) — and what that required in terms of you having access and being able to afford high-speed Internet.
I travel the country. I can’t tell you how many parents I met who would have to go and — and drive the kids to the local fast-food restaurant or library to have access to the public Wi-Fi there. The kids would be in the back seat of the car, trying to do their homework.
We know what an education means in terms of what it allows for the future of one’s ability to grow and succeed. However, so many of the children in our country will be impaired in that ability if they don’t have the basic tools, like access to high-speed Internet.
So we’ve invested billions of dollars to provide what we know needs to be access to high-speed Internet — (applause) — across the country, including subsidies for low-income and working families so that they can afford it, even if they have access.
On education and HBCUs:
One of the common themes, everyone knows, is you invest in the children of a nation, you are investing in the future of a nation. (Applause.) And when we invest in the education of the children of a nation, we are doing the best — (applause) — in terms of ensuring certain outcomes.
So, together, for example, we all said: Let’s support some of the most excellent academic institutions in the United States of America, which are referred to as HBCUs. (Applause.)
And so, under Dr. Glover’s leadership, our sorority raised millions of dollars for HBCUs — (applause) — and our administration invested an historic $5.8 billion in our HBCUs. (Applause.)
And as a point of personal privilege, as the first Vice President to be a graduate of an HBCU, I’m particularly proud of that fact. (Laughs.) (Applause.)
On home ownership, and racism in home appraisals:
We know, historically, that one of the impediments to economic health, growth, and wealth for the Black community has been biases in the system that allows for homeownership. And that continues to today.
So I’ve met with many of the leaders here and around the country to talk about the fact that one of the remaining issues in terms of the bias and the system is the bias in home appraisals. (Applause.) You (inaudible). Right? You’ve heard the stories.
The stories of how a Black family wants to sell their home or learn the value of their home because maybe it is then the assets of that home that will be the basis of sending their child off to college or helping their child grow a business. And then the appraisers come in and the family knows, “No, that sounds like a low estimate of the value of our home.”
And there are stories, which I’m sure we’ve all heard, about that family then having — friends of the family and other family who are white and inviting them to come in and put up their family pictures — (laughter) — and the Black family takes down their own, leaves the house for a couple of days and the appraiser comes in and, lo and behold, the same house appraises for a higher amount.
So, one of the issues we’ve been dealing with is speaking that truth and dealing with it around what we need to do to eliminate racial bias in home appraisals, understanding when we have an economic agenda, the value of a home for so many of our families is the greatest source of their wealth and intergenerational wealth. (Applause.)
On the courts and Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson:
And last but not least: Together, we said we needed better representation on the federal courts. (Applause.) You know where I’m going. (Laughs.)
So, first, I will tell you and share with you, we have appointed the most diverse group of judges in the history of the United States — (applause) — including, of course, the first Black woman appointed to the United States Supreme Court: Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson. (Applause.)
On gun violence:
If we want as a nation to keep our communities safe from gun violence, well, we must demand that Congress has the courage to repeal the liability shield that protects gun manufacturers, and we must demand they have the courage to renew the assault weapons ban. (Applause.)
We have lost too many precious lives. I attended the funeral in Buffalo of an 86-year-old grandmother. And you know her story, and if not, I will share with you. She was going to the grocery store after having left her husband who she’d been caring for, who’s in a nursing home. She was just going to buy some groceries. A matriarch of a family.
So, in Buffalo. In Uvalde, those babies and their teachers. In Highland Park, I went there within 24 hours of that massacre that was supposed to be a parade route. And in communities and cities across our country.
Listen, as we applaud — and we must applaud — our President, Joe Biden, for signing the first federal gun safety bill in 30 years — (applause) — he signed it.
And there is still more work to do to see it through, especially when, in America today, while Black people are 13 percent of America’s population, Black people are 62 percent of gun homicide victims.
This is our issue. This is our issue in terms of our leadership on this issue of the need for reasonable gun safety laws. It is an issue on which we lead because we know we have so much at stake as leaders in our country. When young Black men are 18 times more likely to be victims of gun homicides, we will lead on this issue.
Harris also referenced “so-called leaders”—dropping a pointed dig at Republicans’ suppression of voting rights:
And there are, as there have always been, forces that stand in our way. Forces that oppose even the most — on this issue of gun safety — even the most commonsense gun safety proposals. Forces that include extremist so-called leaders who, instead of expanding rights, work to restrict rights; these so-called leaders who, after we fought and marched — members of our sorority being among the greatest leaders, fought for the right to vote — these so-called leaders, right here in this state and in other places in the country, making it more difficult for people to vote! (Applause.)
So-called leaders: In neighboring states, making it even illegal to give folks food and water as they’re standing in line to vote. (Applause.)
And we know what we need to do. One of the things we need to do is pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and the Freedom to Vote Act. (Applause.) So-called leaders.
That discussion segued into the consequences of reversing Roe:
So-called leaders who are in the process of criminalizing doctors and punishing women who want to make health decisions for themselves. (Applause.)
So we know what we need to do. We need to continue to fight for a woman’s right to make the most intimate, personal decisions for herself, with her doctor, with her pastor, with her priest, with her loved ones, but not her government telling her what she’s supposed to do. (Applause.)
Harris closed with a call to action, one focused on the dire need to get more Democrats elected:
In particular — because I’m going to leave you with a couple specifics — (laughter) — we need two additional United States senators to protect voting rights. (Applause.) We need two additional United States senators to protect a woman’s right to make decisions about her own body. (Applause.) And we need to elect people who will defend these rights up and down the ballot — from district attorneys to state attorneys general to local sheriffs to governors. (Applause.)
And to make this happen, let us do what we do best: We build coalitions. We know how to do that. We got the meanest, baddest phone trees in the world. (Laughter.) We know how to network. We are fueled in the deeply held belief that we all have so much more in common than what separates us.
So let’s do the kind of work that we have done, because we do it so well, and continue to activate and organize our communities. Let’s continue to be on the frontlines of the greatest movement for progress in our country.
And I’ll close with this: Our soror, the great Coretta Scott King, once said that freedom must be earned and won in each generation.
I look out at this group, and I see among the folks here a young woman who is still making her way through college, sitting next to a woman who has served her community in pink and green with pride for over 75 years. (Applause.)
Ours is an intergenerational sisterhood. (Applause.) And we live with that knowledge, with the knowledge that we stand on great and broad soldiers, like Norma E. Boyd. We live knowing that we are their legacy, that we learn from each other, that we teach each other, and that we have always been about fighting for the best of our country.
Because the women of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated have always been unburdened by what has been, unburdened by what society may say we can or cannot be.
And through our sisterhood, we teach that there is no barrier we cannot break and there is no obstacle we cannot overcome.
We are built for leadership. And every day, we see it through. We strive. And we do. (Applause.)
I grew up in this world of activist members of the Divine Nine. My mother was a Delta, my dad a Kappa, my aunts were AKAs, and my uncle an Alpha. I worked, and organized alongside many members when I was a student at Howard University, and I still do.
As I noted above, members of the Divine Nine number nearly four million. That’s four million Black voters, “built for leadership” and fighting for a better country and world!
[I]f a politician wants to plug into an organized and historic powerhouse of Black womanhood, he or she had better find the Black sororities. The same is true for [Black] men and Black fraternities.
Not all Black folks are part of this particular segment of our community; however, many of our most active Black Democrats in office are. That fact alone should make Democrats pay closer attention.
As MVP Harris remarked, we will see this through.