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Pledging Gone Wrong

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Just after ten-thirty on the night of September 9, 2002, four sorority hopefuls were allegedly blindfolded and driven to the oceanside community of Playa del Rey, California. Kristin High, 22, and Kenitha Saafir, 24, both students at California State University, Los Angeles, were among the four pledges.

They had dressed alike in black running shoes, heavy black sweatshirts and black jogging pants. In all, reports say there were at least 11 women gathered on the beach that Monday, including seven members from the citywide Sigma chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha, or AKA.

The surf was unusually rough, with fierce riptides and waves breaking as high as ten feet. According to lawsuits later filed by the families, the pledges were taken to the shoreline and told to do a series of calisthenics. Afterward they were instructed to act out a Simon Says ritual in which they were led into ocean waters, still blindfolded.

At some point, witnesses say, a large wave crashed along the shore, pulling Kenitha under. Reportedly her line sister Kristin knew that Kenitha couldn’t swim. But when Kristin rushed in to try to save Kenitha, she, too, was overcome by the wave.

No doubt Kristin and Kenitha might have described to future generations how “hard” they pledged to become part of the nation’s oldest, and some say most prestigious, Black sorority. Founded by 16 “ladies” of Howard University in 1908, AKA aimed to encourage “high scholastic and ethical standards,” and to “promote unity and friendship among college women....”

Had Kristin and Kenitha become AKAs, they would have joined the ranks of such women as Judge Constance Baker Motley, Toni Morrison, Althea Gibson, Mae Jemison, Suzanne de Passe, Congresswoman Diane Watson, Maya Angelou, Rosa Parks, Phylicia Rashad and Jada Pinkett Smith.

But the two young women would not survive the pledging process. Shortly before midnight on a beach that was soon crowded with ambulances, fire trucks, LAPD squad cars, rescue boats and a hovering helicopter beaming searchlights, Kristin High and Kenitha Saafir were pulled from the surf and pronounced dead. Both line sisters had drowned.

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