100 Years of Sisterhood, Captured in a Night
Despite life changes, Delta Sigma Theta's centennial showed this writer that her sorority's ties always bind.
But promises you make aren't always promises kept in their entirety. As the years have stretched between, I've been noticeably lax in my commitment to the work of the sorority, using excuses like shuffling from state to state and having an equally nomadic bank account to avoid settling into a graduate chapter and finding a Delta home base. I realized what was missing when my chapter sorors and I started our walk to Howard's campus during Saturday's last hour.
The amount of red someone had on was almost directly proportional to how active that person had been in the sorority. One of my sisters -- the one who makes sure to keep in touch with every new line coming out of our chapter -- had on three layers of letters. Of course, we made fun of her "para on para on para," but I was just as proud, especially when other women called out to us from moving cars. "Oo-oop," yelled a woman in her 40s, beaming. "Hey, soror," we yelled back, never knowing her name.
By the time we arrived at the famed Fortitude statue on Howard's main campus, the storm of red was practically a monsoon. Despite living in Washington for more than seven years, I had never seen Fortitude in person. Like a native New Yorker who'd never been to the Statue of Liberty, I knew it was there without having to lay eyes on it. Still, the experience was overwhelming.
"Commissioned by the sorority and unveiled at Howard University in 1979 as a tribute to the founders, the Fortitude sculpture is a visible symbol of the celebration of black womanhood," according to Delta's official website, and the history I memorized by heart all those years ago. "The statue symbolizes courage, hope, wisdom and strength."
I've recited those words like a mantra before, but seeing them come to life in front of me was a different experience. Hundreds, if not thousands, of women filled all the available space within the Fortitude line of sight. This was "sisterhood" as a verb. We were doing what we said we would do: coming together.
The singing started right after midnight, after we'd laughed and hugged and cried and shouted to the heavens like women celebrating the New Year, Christmas and a birthday all at once. At first we strained to hear the right notes, but they kept getting swallowed by the fog. So we gave up and gave in.
"What verse is this?" a soror next to me asked.
"I have no clue," I answered. So we both just swayed, knowing that we'd catch up eventually because the song would go on.