When parts of Baltimore burned after Freddie Gray died in police custody, Alpha Kappa Alpha nurses were on the scene to make sure the displaced elderly had their medications. When the contaminated water crisis erupted in Flint, Mi., the sorority trucked crates of bottled water there to hand out to residents. And when Ferguson, Mo. erupted in protests after cops shot unarmed teen Michael Brown, AKA sorors were on hand to support the families affected by the unrest.
Alpha Kappa Alpha has been on the front lines of protests in the Black Lives Matter movements as well as backing residents in cities that were the scenes of major crisis.
It’s something its president, Dorothy Buchanan Wilson, said is part of the sorority’s mission, using its members, its resources and its ability to mobilize on short notice to help the community as it recovers from these traumatic events.
“We had members on the ground from the very beginning, to help the families, to provide comfort and aid,” Wilson told Essence.com. “It’s not for us to go in on the back end. We help the families move through these situations.”
“It’s the same thing in Flint, Michigan,” Wilson added. “We were there well before the world realized that they had a problem.”
But the country’s emergencies aren’t the only places were the AKA’s make their presence felt.
During the sorority’s Boule, or annual convention in July that’ll be in Atlanta this year, 10,000 of the sorority’s 22,000 attendees have planned to participate in 23 acts of volunteerism across the city in one day in honor of their 23rd president Dr. Mary Shy Scott, who was from Atlanta.
The service projects include building or refurbishing several playgrounds, collecting more than 20,000 backpacks filled with school supplies for less fortunate children, an HBCU college fair for Atlanta teens, packaging more than 100,000 meals for the needy and a candlelight vigil in honor of best-selling author, mental health advocate and fellow AKA Bebe Moore Campbell, to help temper the stigma around mental health.
“It’s important that we provide hands on services, programming and activities - things we can leave behind,” Wilson said. “We want to leave a legacy in these communities.”
The Chicago-based Alpha Kappa Alpha was founded in 1908 and today is a $30 million a year nonprofit enterprise, with 283,000 members in nearly 1,000 chapters across the country and around the world. Wilson attributed the sorority’s longevity to the fact that it takes service just as seriously as sisterhood.
“People tend to see the fun side, but what has allowed us to be here 108 years later is the fact that we are known for helping people,” Wilson said. “And that helping aspect helps us to continue to grow, partner with others who share our vision, and be true to our mission.”
Besides their volunteer work at the community level, the Alpha Kappa Alpha’s have taken their message of uplifting the community from within to state capitals. The group created coalitions that lobby state legislators to take action on issues like creating better access to mental health services, Wilson said, adding that many affected by excessive force from law enforcement have documented mental health struggles.
“We can be the voice for those who have no voice,” Wilson said. “We’re educated. We have a platform behind us and we have numbers.”
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