Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority honors Jay-Z.

Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority honors Jay-Z.

Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority honors Jay-Z.

When I received the press release from Alpha Kappa Alpha listing the people being honored at this year's AKA Boule in St. Louis, I literally had to read it three times for my brain to register.

Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority honors Jay-Z.

Before I start, let me first say that I think Alpha Kappa Alpha has taken a lot of media hits over the past year, and in a way, it's been unfair.  Yes, the wax statute of former AKA president Barbara McKinzie was a funny story in an "I can't believe she had a $5 billion dollar wax statue made of herself" type of way.  And then there's the lawsuit filed by AKA members which alleges financial improprieties, but that one's not so funny.


Both of these stories overshadow all of the great work ordinary AKAs do on a daily basis.  Thousands of hours devoted to the black community, women, the youth, and great causes like defeating breast cancer, all get pushed to the side.  For my part, I have a bunch of positive AKA stories coming in the next few weeks.

That said, news items wait for no one.  And a black women's organization honoring Jay-Z is a news item.

For the uninitiated, every fraternity and sorority routinely honor outstanding personalities and community leaders at their conventions.  These people don't have to be members of any organization, or even famous, but worthy of adulation by the body.  So when I read the list of honorees AKA had picked, I was initially impressed.


Governor General and Commander in Chief of Canada, Michaëlle Jean, was being honored for international service.  The same honor also went to Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the president of Liberia and the first woman president in Africa. Educators like Peggy Lewis LeCompte, and leaders like Faye B. Bryant were also listed as honorees.  All great choices and worthy of being picked by one of America's leading women's organization.

Then we get to the Anna Eleanor Roosevelt Medallion of Honor.  This was given to one Shawn Corey Carter, aka Jay-Z, and according to the presser, AKA in essence was honoring Jay-Z in part for being rich and successful, noting his album sales and ownership of the 40/40 Club.  Fine, being rich and famous is an achievement.

AKA also mentions that Jay-Z is active in philanthropy, including a global water shortage project with the United Nations. For those who don't know, that project is called the Play Pump, a seemingly ingenious Merry Go Round that relies on children playing on it to generate water for poor villagers in Africa.  It got a lot of media over the years, and Jay-Z along with other luminaries like Bill Clinton, did indeed lend their names and efforts to it.  Unfortunately, the Play Pump hasn't exactly worked as advertised.

But that's not Jay-Z's fault and that's not why I question this pick. I question this pick because for all of Jay-Z's success, brilliance, and philanthropy, one can't escape the fact that a lot of his fortune and fame was built upon writing, promoting and selling rhymes that denigrate women, black women in particular.  And for Alpha Kappa Alpha, an organization devoted to empowering women, black women in particular, to conveniently ignore Jay-Z's record is noteworthy.

Alpha Kappa Alpha has the right to pick their honorees. But one can't help wonder if ordinary AKA's, the ones who don't make the decisions about honorees, gave a collective "What the hell?" when they saw Mr. Carter's name on this year's list.  It would seem to contradict everything that Alpha Kappa Alpha stands for.

But hey, what do I know?  Jay-Z may still have 99 problems, but he now knows that the AKAs ain't one.

Contact Lawrence Ross on Twitter: @alpha1906

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Lawrence Ross is the author of the Los Angeles Times best-seller The Divine Nine: The History of African American Fraternities and Sororities. His newest book, Blackballed: The Black and White Politics of Race on America’s Campuses, is a blunt and frank look at the historical and contemporary issue of campus racism on predominantly white college campuses. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.