Sorority dedicated to change, community

Members of the Albuquerque Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority are gearing up for a push to the polls, registering voters, educating voters, making them aware of early and absentee-voting opportunities or urging them to get to the polls on Nov. 6, Election Day.

“Twelve of our members have become voter-registration agents,” said Kirsten Ray, the chapter’s recording secretary and chairwoman of its political awareness and involvement committee.

bright spotSonya Morring Smith, chapter vice president, said the chapter also will be doing Politics 101 presentations to teach people about the voting process as we march toward an election in which local, state and national offices are at stake.

“We don’t want people to register and then not vote,” she said. “This is important locally and nationally.”

Doing their part

Delta Sigma Theta, a sorority dedicated to public service, especially through programs aimed at the African-American community, was founded on Jan. 13, 1913, by 22 women students at Howard University in Washington, D.C. Less than two months later, on March 3, 1913, Delta Sigma Theta members were participating in the Women’s Suffrage March in Washington, D.C.

“Since then, Deltas throughout the world have continued to commit ourselves to be agents of change for disenfranchised people,” said Jasmyn Madison, Albuquerque Alumnae Chapter president. “And our chapter will continue to do our part to make sure we are at the forefront of helping our community become a better place.”

In recognition of all they attempt and all they accomplish, the Albuquerque Alumnae Chapter was presented two program awards – one for community impact and one for social action work – during Delta Sigma Theta’s Southwest Region Conference in July in Dallas. The southwest region is made up of more than 140 chapters in Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico and Jamaica.

Delta Sigma Theta has a five-pronged program of action – economic development, educational development, international awareness and involvement, physical and mental health, and political awareness and involvement.

In working toward those goals, here’s a sampling of what doing their part looks like in the Albuquerque Alumnae Chapter. Last year, the Albuquerque Deltas teamed up with the Albuquerque branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) to sponsor an Albuquerque mayoral forum and this past Friday they again joined the local branch of the NAACP to sponsor a gubernatorial forum.

“It is important that as part of the black community, we get our concerns – about economic development, crimes in neighborhoods and education – out there,” Madison said. “But often these concerns are not unique to the black community.”

During the past year, the chapter also distributed several $1,000 scholarships to Albuquerque-area young people, worked with health organizations to present a fair advising the community about access to health care resources, assisted forums discussing various paths to education and financial literacy tools, supported the local refugee community and worked with programs such as Habitat for Humanity, the Roadrunner Food Bank and Socks for Tots.

Over the next year, in addition to its voting drive efforts, the chapter has plans for English-as-a-second-language tutoring, economic development workshops and trying once again to persuade the state Legislature to pass a state anti-hazing law.

“We are proud of our unified accomplishments as a chapter,” Smith said. “It is our hope and intent to continuously stretch for maximum impact and strong social activism.”

Sisterhood and service

Committed, persistent and unflappable, sorority members now number more than 300,000 in more than 900 chapters, not only in the United States but also in the Bahamas, Bermuda, Canada, England, Germany, Jamaica, Japan, Liberia and South Korea. The organization is a sorority of college-educated women, but it is open to any woman regardless of race, religion and nationality as long as they meet requirements. Women may join through undergraduate chapters at a college or university or through an alumnae chapter after earning a college degree.

The Albuquerque Alumnae Chapter was chartered on March 18, 1967, with 15 members and more than 50 years later has a membership of 49. A lot of them came to Albuquerque from elsewhere.

Madison, 37, grew up in Memphis. She attended Clark Atlanta University in Atlanta and joined Delta Sigma Theta after graduating. Smith, 51, is from Norfolk, Va., attended Norfolk State University and, like Madison, joined the sorority after earning her degree.

Ray, 52, from Portland, Ore., joined Delta Sigma Theta 30 years ago while she was a student at Spelman College in Atlanta. And Florence Bowers, 70, from Aiken, S.C., joined the sorority nearly 50 years ago when she was enrolled at Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, N.C.

Bowers has been in Albuquerque for 40 years and a member of the Albuquerque Alumnae Chapter for more than 30. Madison said other members of the sorority refer to Bowers as the sister they want to be when they grow up.

The immediate past chairwoman of the chapter’s arts and letters committee, Bowers has worked the past eight years with the University of New Mexico’s Popejoy Hall to get young people involved with the arts, primarily by providing them with discounted tickets to Popejoy performances.

“It has made a difference,” she said of the efforts. “It has made the African-American community a presence (at arts programs).”

Bowers said she values Delta Sigma Theta for the sisterhood and the satisfaction of providing service.

Ray, who develops computer software for a living, concurs.

“Part of joining is wanting to serve, and it’s nice when I am able to do that with other people,” she said. “It’s hard to get things done by yourself. It’s easy for me to develop software by myself. But I can’t do social action by myself.”

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