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Kresge staff, alumnus reflect on Divine 9 and impact of Black sororities and fraternities

General Foundation News

For more than 100 years, the Divine Nine has been a source of pride in Black communities. Beyond their impact on college campuses, the rich history and legacy of sororities and fraternities are also prevalent in many workplaces, including The Kresge Foundation.

To help celebrate Black culture, history and wellness, several Kresge staff members and one alumnus joined a panel discussion to reflect on how being members of the Divine Nine Black Greek-letter organizations helped to guide them personally and professionally to careers grounded in service.

A common thread they all share is being mission-aligned to help achieve equity while being stewards of the legacies they honor. The panel discussion was held on February 27. Panelists included:

  • Crystal Sewell, Human Resources Director, Talent & Human Resources, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority.
  • Erika Brice, Social Investment Officer, Social Investment Practice, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority
  • Dexter Mason, Managing Director, Civic Nation and former Kresge Special Assistant to the President, Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity.
  • Adena Hill, Program Officer, Detroit Program, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority
  • Wendye Mingo, Managing Director, Information Technology, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority

The conversation spanned from the origins of Black Greek-letter organizations to their role as rich communities of prolific African Americans in all fields.

Adena Hill, Kresge program officer, joins with sorority members on an MLK Day of Service in 2006.

View photos of Kresge staff representing their sororities and fraternities.

History of the Divine 9

The Divine Nine is used to refer to the nine organizations that make up the National Pan-Hellenic Council (NPHC) founded on May 10, 1930 on the campus of Howard University. The council consists of five fraternity and four sorority organizations: Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc., Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc., Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc., Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc., Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc., and Iota Phi Theta Fraternity, Inc.

According to the NPHC, each of the nine NPHC organizations “evolved during a period when African Americans were being denied essential rights and privileges on college campuses. Racial isolation on predominantly white campuses and social barriers of class created a need for African Americans to align themselves with other individuals sharing common goals and ideals.”

The first Black fraternities were created on the campuses of Cornell University and Indiana University, two predominantly white institutions. Shut out of the white fraternities, the African Americans on these campuses created their own spaces. This resulted in the Alpha Phi Alpha, Inc. and Kappa Alpha Psi, Inc. fraternities, founded in 1906 and 1911, respectively. During the same timeframe at Howard University, more Black students were creating their learning communities. The first African American sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha was founded in 1908. Four more historic BGLOs were founded at Howard between 1911 and 1920 (Omega Psi Phi, Inc. in 1911, Delta Sigma Theta, Inc. in 1913, Phi Beta Sigma, Inc. in 1914, and Zeta Phi Beta in 1920).

Along with the Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, founded at Butler University in 1922, these sororities and fraternities became some of the longest-running African American organizations in history. On May 10, 1930, the BGLOs formed the National Pan-Hellenic Council. In 1996, Iota Phi Theta, a fraternity founded at Morgan State University in 1963, officially joined the NPHC, and these organizations became the Divine Nine.

Kresge reflections

The Divine Nine are a bastion of Black pride, culture and unity. Each sorority and fraternity uphold service and activism as central tenets of their organizations and have long been a part of the struggle for racial justice.

Each panelist shared their stories and why they chose their respective organizations. They also reflected on how their experiences helped to shape who they are today, the service-driven work they do, and their commitment to serving their communities.

Here are some reflections:

Wendye Mingo, managing director, Information Technology, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority

“Starting from a young age, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority has engrained in me the importance of giving back to my community. The AKA mentors in my life have invested in me since middle school and I cannot imagine where I would be if they had not. This sorority has served as my lifeline! The connections I have made and the network I have built have resulted in several opportunities that I would have never imagined. I will continue to pay it forward whenever I can. I know that looking from the outside, some may notice our colors and the fun activities we have, but for me, it’s about sisterhood and service to all mankind.”  

Greg Freeman, associate, Grants Management, Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity

“Before I became a member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc., I knew how important it was to be of service in my community – and I’d watched family members who chose to meet that obligation through the Divine Nine. The legacy of the Divine Nine is togetherness, working toward common goals — fighting for equal rights, expanding voting rights  — that are essential to our communities. Even now, I draw strength from the Founders of these phenomenal organizations, where for more than 100 years, the Divine Nine family continues to do our part to help the world to become a better version of itself.”

Dexter Mason, managing director, Civic Nation, former Kresge special assistant to the president, Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity

“My experience as a member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc. can be directly connected to the work I did at Kresge. Not only the work, but the people I worked with at Kresge. Both experiences have shown me the importance of always ensuring that your personal values align with the organizations you are joining personally and professionally. Additionally, the people I have met through Kappa and during my time at Kresge were all mission-aligned, service-oriented and stewards of the legacies they were honoring and the impact they were trying to make on others. As a result, lifetime bonds and relationships were formed, and I am forever grateful.”

Crystal Sewell, director, Human Resources, Alpha Kappa Alpha, Sorority

“Engagement in Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority continues to have a positive impact on my life personally and professionally. As a young, first-generation college graduate, I saw firsthand the power, strength, kindness, and bond of strong Black women who transformed their communities. Today, I serve in a leadership role in AKA, hoping to transform lives and create opportunities for others – “serving all mankind” and being a beacon of light in the darkness. My lifelong commitment to sisterhood and service is unwavering because the intrinsic value is exponentially gratifying. AKA is a serious matter, and I also enjoy connecting with my fellow Divine 9 brothers and sisters rocking my salmon pink and apple green.”  

Erika Brice, social investment officer, Social Investment Practice, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority

“Growing up with a Mother who is a long-time member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, I always had a respect for the bonds of intergenerational sisterhood created by our Sorority. How these women did ( and continue to) support each other in all aspects of life, how they nurture the whole person. Once I joined the Sorority myself, I began to recognize how these bonds and support structures enable us to serve deeply and sustainably in our communities, while ensuring we also take care of ourselves. I am in awe that over 100 years ago, an organization of college women had the vision and fortitude for our Sorority to have such an impact on the world. I am forever grateful to them.”

Adena Hill, program Officer, Detroit, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority

“My early introduction to Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. was through my elementary school principal who I saw serve and lead in a way that still has me in awe. I witnessed that same exemplary spirit of sisterhood, scholarship, and service as I watched members of the Eta Kappa Chapter navigate campus life (leading protests, serving in leadership roles, organizing events, forming new inclusive spaces) at Spelman College. I saw myself in each of those women, I saw their passion and dedication and knew this was the sisterhood for me. As a member, I have served alongside so many bright women and with one phone call can be connected to talented professionals (doctors, attorneys, engineers, educators, etc.) across the country. Community uplift is a key value that the Divine 9 share. We recognize membership as an honor and a privilege and believe we have a responsibility to pay it forward and give back whenever possible. To whom much is given much is required.”

Videos & Resources:

In honor of Black History Month, Kresge’s Equity Task Force encouraged all staff members to celebrate Black culture, history and wellness. Click here to see how Kresge staff celebrated Black History Month.