Monday, January 14, 2013

We Need More Nellie Quanders: A Tribute to AKA

I know that I'm gonna make my good Delta friends mad, but that is not the point.  Early in the history of the Black fraternity and sorority movement, one Nellie Quander - a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, Alpha Chapter - stood before a group of sisters who wanted to change the name, the mission, and the future of their sorority.  They had intended to change the organization's name from Alpha Kappa Alpha to Delta Sigma Theta.  With one quick vote, there would no longer be anymore AKA.

However, members of the sorority had gotten wind of these would-be changes, and Nellie Quander stood in the midst of sisters she had possibly helped "make," sisters she had personally selected, sisters to which she was responsible.  She appeared as one who would bring an ultimatum - "You can leave before we let you change our stuff."  And those members of Alpha Kappa Alpha did just that...they left and started a new sorority which we all know.  And those standing with Quander, persevered to keep the legacy of Alpha Kappa Alpha going.

While I am thankful for Delta, I must admit what an awful day it would have been had AKA died with a swift vote!  It would have been awful, as thousands of young college women would have never known of Ethel Hedgeman Lyle or Nellie Quander.  They would have never known Alpha Kappa Alpha...and the depths of the women who make that organization their own...replete with white suits, pearls, and songs that cry out about "a vision fair."  How sad it would have been had we never seen Ivies...or to see young ladies wrapped in salmon pink and apple green.

I am thankful that Quander said, "enough is enough" because sometimes when we are young and impressionable we have no idea what we are doing.  We have no idea of what dramatic changes mean.  In the life of the church, it has meant wars, literally, even as new denominations serve to fill a need.  As one of my professors said during a church history lesson, "Splits are sometimes inevitable and good...but you better know what you are doing."

In this age where we love forgoing tradition, history and mission to do the new and shiny thing...we might learn a lot from one Ms. Nellie Quander.  I think colleges, churches, and social/cultural/political organizations could learn a thing or two by looking at the past.  For one, stick to your mission...I am so tired of seeing people throw out a perfectly good mission in favor of doing something trendy that lacks depth and merit.  If I see one more sorority or fraternity neophyte line emerge from a police car like convicts when you are supposed to be the leaders of the day, I think I'll throw up!  When did criminality become en vogue for college students?

I think often about how groups forgo their real purpose in order to "keep up with the times."   Many of us would be better served if liberal arts colleges taught the liberal arts, rather than pretending to be some Division 1 State School.  It would be nice to see the NAACP focus on politics rather than trying to do medical awareness.  It would be great if churches focused on evangelism/christian counsel/truth telling, rather than trying to be hip and easy worship-tainment...as one friend calls it.

It is sometimes nice to see tradition live side by side with nuance.  Instead of throwing the blueprint away, it might be nice if we created innovation inside of tradition.  Some of the best institutions in the world have learned how to do this well.

I believe the day may come when Nellie Quander-like alumni have to tell crazy university presidents, "no it is not okay that you change the mission of this university."  Some Quander-like person may have to be at a church meeting and say, "No, we cannot get rid of the hymnals, in place of the praise and worship team's three word lullaby songs."  Inevitably, some Nellie Quander-like person will say to organizations with rich histories, "just because you don't know the history, doesn't mean you get to change it or chart it astray from its intention."

How many schools, organizations, churches would be better if they understood how to make tradition and innovation dance together?  How many of these places would be better/fuller/robust institutions if they understood how to ignite tradition...rather than throwing the baby out with the bath water.  Some of what we are doing has a lot to do with having low self-esteem and creating organizational low self-esteem.  Meaning, we may lead this thing, but it doesn't mean we value it.  All change is not good...it would be nice for once, refreshing even...to see some leader carry out the mission of something bigger than our own egos.  It would be nice to see someone lead without destroying and/or dismantling something.  And, it would be nice if the Nellie Quander's of our day would get up and say..."It's time for you to go!"

I'm thankful for Nellie Quander...and I'm looking for her metaphorical sons and daughter to help us find ourselves in a world that wants us to forget our rich past!

11 comments:

  1. It is hard to read this and not feel that you are in some way trying to slight Delta Sigma Theta. You owe me no explanation for the slight, but please take care with your words when you use the term young and impressionable in the context of the Founders of Delta Sigma Theta, because though they were young impressionable they were not. I appreciate your high regard for Ms. Quander and in no way seek to change that opinion or sway you to feel a certain way about the Founders of Delta Sigma Theta, but trust and believe that if you ever desire to tell the real story you will find that the decision made to part ways to form Delta Sigma Theta was not someone telling us its time for us to go, but indeed from the Founders saying it was time for us to GROW. Social club we were not then, nor today. Knowing the entire story, I think I would want more of the 22 Founders of Delta Sigma Theta in the world today!!!

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    1. Is this not a blantant slight to Alpha Kappa Alpha? Sor Tired of Deltas whining about being disrespected only for them to reply with bitterness. Neither you or I were personally there to witness the events of that time, so just leave it be!

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    3. Well said Soror Adams. I find it laughable that the being first to form didn't also equate to being first to have an impact on our communities. While no, none of us where there, it's no coincidence that it took Nellie and her crew 5 years to even think about incorporating, their social group; that idea came from the 22. It also mystifies me as to why an organization that had only been formed for a few weeks were present at the Women's Suffrage March but the "First" sorority who had been around 5 years, were visibly absent!

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  2. Thank you for your wonderful tribute. It was shared with me by a Soror just this morning and I wanted to acknowledge your blog. I am in Div School at Vanderbilt so the aspect of attempting to upgrade mission statements of church and organizations such as the NAACP resonated with me. Thank you again. I will be subscribing :)

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  3. Thank you very much for this wonderful tribute. I shared this with my Line Sisters and this blog speaks volumes. Thank you again.

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  4. The "main point" of this post is about the importance of creating a clear mission/vision, and sticking with it no matter what comes your way. Even if you have to part friendships and business relationships along the way in order to succeed.

    But since the author is using the founding history of two sororities to make his point clear, let me say that I am glad there are multiple African-American sororities and fraternities. And at the end of the day, we should celebrate each other because our organizations are supposed to be of service and support to each other (as African-Americans) and to the world. We should all strive to collaborate more and learn each other's history of service and contributions. Many of us have done that, but far too many remain stuck in the past, bickering about conversations and events that took place 100 years ago. We can and should do better.

    As a proud member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., I am grateful to the late and great Nellie Quander who was an incorporator and the first international president of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.

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    1. Indeed sister. We are grateful to and for all of those who blazed a path before us.

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  5. The discussion about this topic will never be agreed upon, because WE have our history and they have theirs. As long as you stay debating things that happened over a century ago, nothing will never be accomplished. The point is being missed here and that is even more saddening than anything.

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  6. I agree sisters, the greater point is being missed; we must stand strong for our beliefs regardless what surrounds us, seems tempting and easy. The author, in all of his gracious accolades, lead with the less than correct wording. How about applauding the women of African ancestry who dared to step out and join as a sisterhood, thwarting all segregated and racist ideologies facing those college educated women. Applaud those women who saw as greater need within the community, shed tears for the sisters they would hurt when disagreeing with the established vision in order to forge another vision. My brother, I ask that you not further promote a divisive wedge between my sisters of AKA, myself (Delta) nor my sisters of Zeta or Sigma Gamma Rho. Much D9 love

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