Jill Louis rarely calls the US vice president Kamala harris by its official title.
She has another name for Mrs. Harris – soror.
Ms Harris and Ms Louis, a partner at the Perkins Coie law firm, have been “sorors”, or sisters, since they were members of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority as students at Howard University in Washington, DC. in 1986.
For Ms. Harris, being part of America’s oldest all-black sorority has been one of the defining attachments in her life.
“I’m home when I see you, and it’s a real blessing,” Ms. Harris said this month, when she spoke to the 37 women she joined Alpha Kappa Alpha ago. decades. She called the group “her center”.
His inauguration this week as the country’s first black vice president was a moment of rejoicing for his fellow Sisters. “We want people to know the vice president like we know the vice president,” Ms. Louis said.
It was also an indication of how the American establishment is evolving. Dozens of previous White House occupants have been members of fraternities and private clubs – from Thomas Jefferson’s time at the Flat Hat Club at the College of William and Mary to George HW Bush being “tapped” for secrecy Skull & Bones at Yale and his son. time at the rowdy Delta Kappa Epsilon, among others.
Fraternities have long been a feature of American universities. These social clubs promote the community work, civic spirit and philanthropic contributions of members. They are also status markers that can provide lifelong networks of social and business contacts.
With Ms. Harris’ rise to vice president, AKA now joins a world of elitist, mostly white clubs, from which she and other historically black Greek literary organizations have been separated.
While membership in the AKA is a sign of status for black Americans, the organization and its symbols are still little known to many whites. At a January 2019 book event for Ms Harris, for example, a white Washington Post reporter tweeted that members of the public had let out “screams” after the senator’s sisterhood membership. era was mentioned on stage. In fact, she was referring to AKA’s traditional call of “skee-wee”, and her description sparked an uproar from blacks. (Ms. Harris’ sorors call the incident the “skee-wee heard around the world.”)
AKA was founded at historically black Howard University in 1908 by nine women determined to replicate the Greek letter sorority and fraternity system found on white campuses. It now has around 300,000 members in 50 states, including actress Phylicia Rashād and Starbucks COO Rosalind Brewer.
For black women, involvement with AKA often begins long before they “commit” or formally apply to college. AKA hosts a cotillion called Fashionetta for Girls and awards scholarships to high school students.
Like Ms. Harris, Sorors tend to be linked to the organization long after graduation, regularly attending meetings and community service activities with their alumni locals. They sport AKA’s iconic combination of salmon pink and apple green with a strand of pearl like the one the new VP frequently wears.
AKA gave Mrs. Harris more than just spiritual food. Along with other black fraternities and sororities, she mobilized to help him with his campaign as soon as Ms Harris joined President Joseph Biden’s ticket.
“We had to get our democracy back, our country,” says Glenda Glover, president of AKA and also president of Tennessee State University. “There has been so much effort in this campaign.”
Ms Harris’ ‘line sisters’, the 35 other women she entered AKA with in Howard – some of whom are now college presidents and executives – have spent the past year organizing fundraisers across the country and to appear on CNN and other television networks to vouch for former senator character.
“They follow this African-American Christian tradition of servant leadership – not that it’s not showcased in white fraternities and sororities, but it’s central to African-American fraternities and sororities,” says Rosalind Chow, professor at Carnegie Mellon who specializes in organization. behavior and theory. “They serve God and they are there to contribute to the community.”
The support of her sorors was especially helpful to Ms Harris at the start of her own presidential campaign, when she struggled to overcome the apprehensions of some black voters over her record as a prosecutor, according to Njeri Mathis Rutledge, professor at South Texas College of Law. in Houston.
Although she has only met the Vice President twice, Professor Rutledge, who pledged AKA as a student at Spelman College in Atlanta in 1991, said their joint affiliation led her to pass. hours making phone calls for the Biden-Harris campaign. She estimates that she sent up to 7,000 texts to voters before election day.
Professor Rutledge said, “AKA is going to brag about this one forever!”