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!