Since their founding in the early-to-mid- 1900s, Black Greek organizations have provided a source of community while aiming to help others as much as they benefit their own members.
These organizations boast members who have left a mark on the world, such as television broadcaster Spencer Christian, Olympic silver medalist Maritza Correia McClendon, current U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris, activist Colin Kaepernick, civil rights leaders Martin Luther King Jr., author Zora Neale Hurston, former NBA player Shaquille O’Neal, actress Cicely Tyson and scientist George Washington Carver.
The National Panhellenic Council — also known as the Divine Nine — was established at Howard University May 10, 1930. It is an umbrella organization for the nine Black Greek-letter sororities and fraternities, which are, in order of founding: Alpha Phi Alpha (1906), Alpha Kappa Alpha (1908), Kappa Alpha Psi (1911), Omega Psi Phi (1911), Delta Sigma Theta (1913), Phi Beta Sigma (1914), Zeta Phi Beta (1920), Sigma Gamma Rho (1922) and Iota Phi Theta (1963). Some of these groups were founded at historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) , like Howard, and others created at predominantly white institutions, like Cornell. While these organizations have chapters across all types of college campuses and welcome members of all racial and ethnic backgrounds, they aim to promote positive change for Black people and society as a whole.
“Throughout the history of America, Black people have been often isolated from access and opportunity and for Black students that’s no different (with) resources on campus,” says Leah Gaines, an interdisciplinary lecturer at UCF and member of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority. “For example, there were some white Greek letter organizations created (in the 1900s), but they were not allowing membership for Black students. So on some campuses, (the NPHC) is a way for students who have been segregated almost from the rest of the population to be able to find a safe haven within these groups — especially on campuses that have a history of isolating Black students.”
In the spring of 1975, Delta Sigma Theta was the first Black Greek-letter organization founded at UCF. In June of the same year, Phi Beta Sigma was the first Black Greek-letter fraternity founded at UCF. As of Spring 2022, each of the Divine Nine organizations on campus are active at the same time, which Viancca Williams, director of Fraternity and Sorority Life at UCF is rare among college campuses.
By Spring 2022, the National Pan-Hellenic Council at UCF aims to add plots representing each of the Divine Nine on campus. Support the NPHC Garden Project
Ultimately, NPHC members gain valuable service experience, leadership skills, connections that they maintain for their lifetime, and individualistic and collective pride. With a desire to display that pride for of the campus community to see, the NPHC at UCF aims to create a garden on campus that will feature plots, which are structures or physical places on campus that represent Black Greek organizations, for each of the Divine Nine organizations on campus.
Reasons for joining these organizations range for each individual. Some were inspired by influential figures in their lives or are looking to continue or start family legacies. Others are seeking impactful ways to engage in their community and unite with others for a common cause.
“Although people have their individual pride within their (respective) organizations, at the end of the day, we are all part of a larger goal and mission,” Gaines says. “So when one of us has an achievement, we all do. When I see someone who is of a Black Greek-letter organization, I feel excited, I feel connected. I feel like even if I don’t know them, that is a family member or an extended family member, they immediately become [a] friend.”