Popular movies like Stomp the Yard and Drumline depict youthful, socially hip images of sororities and fraternities on college campuses across the nation, with an emphasis on stomping the yard, also known as stepping.
While those images are largely accurate, there is another image of black fraternities and sororities that is equally, if not more, important.
The groups are also known for the graduate chapters which give members the opportunity to continue the fraternal experience beyond graduation, with missions that place less emphasis on socializing and stepping, and more on service and social change.
The members of Gamma Zeta Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated, the first AKA graduate chapter to be chartered in Florida, will celebrate its 70th anniversary at a luncheon and exhibit on Sunday, April 18 at Jungle Island in Miami.
The celebration will recognize charter members such as Dorothy W. Edwards, whose Liberty City home was the site of the group’s chartering on April 27, 1940.
Edwards, who will celebrate her 75th year in the sorority this year, told the South Florida Times that she was “made” into the sorority in 1935 at Florida A & M University in Tallahassee, and later participated in the implementation of the Gamma Zeta Omega graduate chapter in Miami.
The 96-year-old named her sorority line sisters with ease, sharing the subjects that each woman taught at the time. All of the women were teachers.
Edwards said the sorority has changed over the years, but the strong sisterhood remains.
“The larger the group gets, we lost that closeness, but we’re still close. Anything happens to one, it happens to all of us. It’s really a closely knit group,” said Edwards, who is one of the group’s two surviving charter members. Dolores Bethel Reynolds is the other.
Of the night that the graduate chapter began, Edwards said, “Ida Taylor Radcliff did a lot of the planning herself. When it was time to really present it to us, there were eight of us. That was beginning of Gamma Zeta Omega.”
During its 70-year existence, the GZO chapter of AKA has implemented a variety of programs to address a diverse selection of social issues. The group developed the Ivy Business AKAdemy, the Black Family, and Senior Citizens Outreach, and regularly hosts health and wellness activities. Each year, the sorority mentors and grooms the Ivy Rosettes, high school girls who are eventually presented to the community in a formal debutante ceremony.
The 200-member chapter also awards an annual four-year scholarship to a deserving young woman in the Miami-Dade County area. The chapter’s fundraising efforts include the Emerald Gala and Silent Auction, in partnership with the WISH Foundation, Incorporated (Women in Service to Humanity).
The WISH Foundation serves women who are facing the daunting challenge of substance addiction. The foundation’s signature program is the Jefferson Reaves House Women’s Residential Center, a substance abuse facility that allows the women to keep their small children with them as they receive treatment.
To help the women transition to successful lives after they have completed treatment, the women of Gamma Zeta Omega facilitate career preparation workshops in which they help the women to fine-tune their interviewing and communication skills. The sorority sisters also help the women they serve learn stress reduction techniques, and how to manage their money.
Edwards, a former physical education teacher at Booker T. Washington Senior High, said of her experience as an AKA, “You felt elated that you were even chosen to be a part of the organization.”
IF YOU GO
WHAT: “Seventy Years of Service: Honoring Gamma Zeta Omega’s Legends.”
WHEN: Saturday, April 18 from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
WHERE: Jungle Island, 1111 Parrot Jungle Trail, Miami.
CONTACT: Linda Johnson at 305-758-4458 or via email at LindaJ754@aol.com