by Diane Butts
At the heart of black Greek-letter organizations is service. Myriad programs and projects target communities throughout cities and neighborhoods - designed to make an impact where it's most needed.
In Washington, DC, The Federal City Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated has a partnership with Anacostia High School. Their work focuses on assisting seniors with preparation and submission of college applications and career searches.
Every Tuesday afternoon, sorority members help students fill college applications, look for a job, and offer lots of encouragement. Many of the learners are dealing with historical dysfunction and they face many obstacles.
Each week, the ladies convey the importance of pride in African Americans' rich history, and explain that by their own efforts, they can build on that for success.
Emma Best says, "this grew out of a program requested by students; our chapter had to approve, and DC Public Schools also had to also. The first session was in 2018 here at Anacostia. Essentially, we’re primarily because students asked us to come."
Virginia Lee says, “we are mentors and some of us are retired teachers. Educational development is one of our chapter’s programs. There was a study in 2015 on the community, zeroing in on students in wards seven and eight because they were previously underserved in DC. The neighborhoods are changing but there’s still a need.
"Many of us grew up in an era where, you know the saying “it takes a village?” … well we grew up with the village who supported us in everything. It’s embedded that we’re giving back and we’re paying it forward.”
Judith Dobbins says, "we have a rich history as a people. We’ve been through a lot and we have overcome a lot and we’re still challenged by oppression and efforts to keep us down. Our message to these students is that they are special, they have gifts. Our role is to let them know how important they are by our presence here.
We have to build on their trust… we would get nothing from them if they didn’t trust us … they wouldn’t believe anything we say otherwise. They want to know why we’re doing this … especially why we’re not getting paid. We explain that part of our rich history is giving back and we mean it."
Claudia McKoin says, "what we’re doing here is letting young people that people do care about them – we want them to know they have skills and talents and they can succeed and that it’s part of their black history. But few people tell them that and there’s so much going on at home so coming to school is a good opportunity to get other kinds of support."
One of the recent student activities was to conduct mock interviews with approximately 20 members of the sorority. Students were surprised and some were overwhelmed. They still believe that since they’re “on the other side of the river,” that it’s the end point in life. These ladies explain that they're here to stay.
The neighborhood and the school remain "in transition" (gentrification) and several partnerships to integrate academics, health and social services with student and family engagement help with that momentum. Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated is doing its part to make sure the students have the best possible chance to succeed .... and soar.
Nkechi Ejiogu recently moved here from New York and says there are big differences between the school systems there and here. There are many human resources giving their time but our young people aren’t quick to catch it.
I’ve been here a year and it’s been very rewarding. They fall constantly and will look for any reason to give up.
We let them know we’re willing to meet them at the finish line. For me education means a lot. My dad was a teacher and a college professor and my mom was a social worker – so it is a drive for me… I am meant to be an educator.
I came from Nigeria and I know what a privilege it is to be here. My peers there don’t have the same opportunities. Black History Month is a chance to remind them it’s important to take pride not only in Anacostia but in their community."
Flags around the school's perimeter declare "we are proud," and the web page outlines the school's vision ... "Anacostia High School will equip and empower all students with the social, emotional, and cognitive skills to disrupt oppressive systems and thrive in their local and global communities."
The ladies of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Federal City Alumnae Chapter are doing their part to make sure that happens.