Delta at 100: Celebration, Reflection

The sorority's centennial weekend began in an upbeat mood that changed when the Zimmerman verdict came down.

Delta Sigma Theta members take pictures in front of "Fortitude" -- a statue that honors its founding members. (Emily Hawkins)

Dressed for round 2, one of my line sisters got a text alert that the jury’s decision in the Zimmerman trial was going to be announced any minute. We all wanted to stay and hear it. There was a heavy silence in the living room as we held our breaths.

When the not-guilty verdict was read aloud, it pierced that silence like a sharp needle in a balloon, the air hissing out violently. We were stunned but not shocked or surprised — a conditioned sentiment that many other African-American adults have expressed. But stunned nonetheless and, most of all, heartbroken. One minute the sun was shining and the clouds kept at bay, then suddenly that once-optimistic sky tipped over, pouring out all the rain.

Almost immediately, everyone headed to social media and the Internet. There was going to be a gathering in front of the White House. By now it was well past midnight. Everyone was dressed to party, not protest, but plans changed quickly.

At the White House, TV host Roland Martin stood in front of a small group of Deltas and asked, “When does a moment become a movement?” He asked how organizations like Delta Sigma Theta would use its power, reach and influence to fight for 21st-century justice. How will we go beyond our ancient letters and legacies to making history?

So much had changed by Sunday morning.

Bishop Vashti Murphy McKenzie, granddaughter of one of Delta’s 22 founders and the sorority’s national chaplain, changed the message of her scheduled sermon at the convention’s ecumenical services on Sunday to “Stand Your Ground.”

“Don’t get mad; make it right. Don’t get mad; stand your ground,” McKenzie preached.

“Touch your neighbor and say Emmett Till, Trayvon Martin,” McKenzie told the crowd of sorors dressed all in white. “We’re not nothing. We’re something. We have value and worth. And you can’t just keep walking over us and expect us to lay down and take it!”

It was a powerful and solemn message. One that didn’t so much overpower the celebratory purpose of the weekend but instead fervently underscored the organization’s original purpose: to serve. And after building a foundation of 100 years, Delta should know just how to stand its ground and help turn this moment it now shares a history with into a movement.

Helena Andrews is a contributing editor at The Root and author of Bitch Is the New Black, a memoir in essays. Follow her on Twitter.