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CoastLine: The women of Alpha Kappa Alpha on the commitment to service and what that looks like in Wilmington, NC

The women of the Wilmington chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha, Alpha Psi Omega

The women who join Alpha Kappa Alpha make a commitment to a lifetime of service. How that service is delivered and what the areas of focus are might differ from generation to generation and from city to city, but the end goal is the same: empowerment and expanded possibility for underserved people. Chrystal Fray and Jhaniqua Palmer are members of AKA's Wilmington chapter.

Maya Angelou, Ava DuVernay, Alicia Keys, Coretta Scott King, Toni Morrison, Phylicia Rashad, Jada Pinkett Smith, Wanda Sykes, Ella Fitzgerald, and Wilmington’s own Althea Gibson.

The common thread? They are all high-achieving women. They are all women of color, and they are all members of the sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha.

The historically African-American sororities and fraternities in the Greek system are often referred to as the Divine Nine: five fraternities and four sororities created in the 20th century. With the exception of one fraternity, they all came into being in the early 1900s, when segregation was alive and well in higher education.

For well over a century, the women of Alpha Kappa Alpha have quietly yet powerfully influenced life in these United States. In 1908, sixteen students launched the first AKA chapter out of Howard University. Just five years later, AKA incorporated, becoming the first intercollegiate African-American sorority.

For the better part of a century, 90 years as of June 2022, members of the Wilmington chapter, Alpha Psi Omega, have given their time and talents to service in the Cape Fear region.

The members of the Wilmington chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha, Alpha Psi Omega, in front of the sorority house
John Davis
The members of the Wilmington chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha, Alpha Psi Omega, in front of the sorority house

Some of the local members are well-known activists. For example, Bertha Todd: educator, leader and civil rights champion from her role as Williston librarian in the 1950s to the tumultuous forced desegregation of New Hanover County schools in the 1970s to her work on the 1898 Centennial Foundation in the early 2000s and beyond. Bertha Todd is – and has been -- one of the more public-facing members of the local chapter.

Most of the time, however, the work of these women does not show up in the top stories of the day.

A primary focus is education -- particularly for those in the inner city. The group also works to raise awareness on critical health issues for women of color, the well-documented disparity in health outcomes among the races, youth violence, homelessness, and food insecurity.

Chrystal Fray runs a State Farm Insurance office in Wilmington where she is an agent. She is also the current President of the Alpha Psi Omega chapter of AKA.

Jhaniqua Palmer is Director of Outreach for the YWCA Lower Cape Fear.

Rachel hosts and produces CoastLine, an award-winning hourlong conversation featuring artists, humanitarians, scholars, and innovators in North Carolina. The show airs Wednesdays at noon and Sundays at 2 pm on 91.3 FM WHQR Public Media. It's also available as a podcast; just search CoastLine WHQR. You can reach her at rachellh@whqr.org.