Not standing by silently during injustices, many members of Kansas City, MO, Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority marched alongside Black Lives Matter protesters last summer. Undergraduate members of the sorority from UMKC joined in, registering protesters to vote.
It’s the kind of commitment members have had, dating back to the sorority’s founding more than a century ago.
“We’re unique in our passion and commitment to social action, which is what we were founded on,” said Myra Everette, president of the KC Delta alumnae chapter. “We like to work hard and get our hands dirty and make a change.”
Twenty-two students at Howard University founded Delta Sigma Theta in 1913. That same year, the founders participated in the Women's Suffrage March in Washington, D.C.
“From the moment Delta was founded, we kicked the door out,” Everette said. “It was about social action and people having rights in the justice system. That's what we were built on. And here we are today in the same space.”
The theme for Delta’s Founders’ Day, on March 13 this year, is “Delta Voices Matter: From 1913 Suffrage to 2020 Elections and Beyond.” The theme reflects the organization’s past, much of what they did in 2020, and their commitment to do even more.
Adjusting to Serve
The work of the Kansas City Chapter wasn’t put on hold due to COVID-19, the members put their heads together and figured out how they could help address issues impacting the community.
In support of the election, chapter members made calls reminding people how important it is to vote.
COVID-19 created all sorts of issues in the community, and Delta Sorors stepped up.
“What we challenged ourselves to do was to help people in this community who are hurting with COVID-19,” said Everette. Organizing over Zoom, the chapter focused on how they would support small businesses, the elderly, nurses, students and children.
The group bought meals from small businesses that were struggling, including M & M Bakery and provided them to nursing homes. They also made and donated masks and partnered with local schools to make sure children had meals.
Because of stresses from not only the pandemic, but also the unrest going on last summer, the alumnae chapter implemented an online campaign focusing on both physical and mental health.
“Mental and physical health is something that we probably wouldn't have tended to without the pandemic,” Everette said. But she said the need became apparent with so many people facing isolation in quarantine, while incidences after incidence of racial injustice blasted from their television screens.
To help address the decrease in opportunities to exercise, the chapter uploaded videos for easy, at-home exercises on the KC Delta Alumnae Facebook Page. They also reminded members to check on others who live alone or might me having a difficult time emotionally.
The chapter’s longest running program is their annual Cotillion. In 2020, it looked a little different, but the chapter was still able to raise more than $20,000 in scholarships for high school seniors. This was the 35th year for the cotillion, a scholarship and college readiness program for high school seniors. The ¬¬5-month program usually concludes with a formal dinner and presentation program, with 500 to 700 guests in attendance. Instead, the 2020 concluding program, was a well-done, socially-distanced program for the participants and their family members. Held at the Delta Athenaeum, the much more intimate program was appreciated by all.
The chapter is also focused on making sure recent Delta grads joining the chapter and Deltas from out of town looking for a connection feel supported during the difficult times the pandemic has brought.
Going Forward: Creating a “Delta District”
More than 100 years ago, the oldest women’s organization in Kansas City, the Athenaeum Club, raised funds to build a three-story building to host learning and community service events.
For the last six years, the building has belonged to the KC Delta alumnae chapter and their partner, the Delta Educational and Economic Development Foundation (DEED), a nonprofit established by Delta alumnae chapter members to empower women and families through economic and educational development.
Together, the two organizations have continued the Athenaeum Club’s long legacy of community service and making positive impacts on Kansas City.
During a tour of the building, Everette spoke about the rich history of the building where thousands of great community moments have occurred over the decades. Like many members of the community, Everette says she has fond personal memories of events at the Athenaeum. As a student at UMKC, Everette says her undergraduate chapter of Delta Sigma Theta, Lambda Epsilon, rented the extravagant Athenaeum Club for Delta parties and fundraising events.
Now, DEED and Delta alumnae chapter members plan to beautify the whole neighborhood around the Delta Athenaeum building.
“There's quite a bit of blight in this neighborhood and our goal is to either purchase property or assist developers to make sure that the that the neighborhood is livable and safe,” said Lisa Hardwick, president of DEED. “The purchase of this building and the development of this neighborhood are all part of our economic development thrust,” Hardwick said.
Before the pandemic, DEED and the KC Delta alumnae chapter planned to create a “Delta District,” by purchasing property in the area to build a facility and housing units for senior citizens, kids aging out of foster care and those on the autism spectrum.
The pandemic forced them to put those plans on hold, but their goal for this year is to restart the process and look for a new developer.
“Still, people are in awe that we still work on an alumni level,” Everette said. “It's forever because we're impacting the communities. It's a lifetime commitment.”