21.May { The Relevance of Black Greek Lettered Organizations } – by Tina Ngbare

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A few months ago a BLGO (Black Greek Lettered Organizations) member penned an article for The Grio questioning whether these organizations are still relevant. [Check it out]  I’ll admit that I needed a few moments to ponder myself. As a member of a BGLO – maybe I’m biased. But I also have the ability to separate my feelings from the facts and I was able to pretty quickly identify 3 reasons why the answer is simply -Yes.

1. The measure of our influence is NOT in our popularity, but our impact.

His main point was that he saw a decline in BGLO membership among “prominent” blacks. (I have issues with the phrase ‘prominent blacks, but that’s a rant post for another day.) And I questioned –  Was that ever the goal or was the goal to identify and cultivate leaders within the African-American community? Was the goal to provide African-American students who were minorities facing discrimination and being ostracized on their campuses with a support system while they earned an education? I believe the answer is the latter and that’s what these organizations continue to do.

Don’t judge us by the number of “prominent blacks” we produce (whatever that means), but by the number of students that these organizations have helped make it to their commencement ceremony. Judge us by the number of educational programs, community partnerships, and scholarships we provide. Judge us by our youth mentoring programs, the amount of money we raise for national and international charities, our community service hours, and leadership development programs and NOT by our ability to navigate corporate or public politics. I don’t care if you find members of BGLOs among nationally-recognized black figures – that’s not my measure of success.

2. The BGLOs (specifically the NPHC) is a part of African-American history, culture, and community.

The role that BGLOs have played and continue to play in the African-American community cannot be denied. These organizations maintain a clear link to our community through a solid commitment to community service and are rooted in brother- and/or sisterhood. Maybe the priorities have changed, but the need remains. And maybe – just maybe – our goal is no longer to be a viaduct for black achievement but to remind us to lift as we climb and not forget about the members of the diaspora who still need our help.

Also, the sense of community that these organizations embed in your psyche is insane. And quite frankly, they’re one of the few organizations in the African-American community that does it so intentionally. For members, BGLOs become a support system that allows you the space to grow and learn, and the freedom to mess up.

It’s also your family when you’re far from home. STORY: I live across the country from my family and a few months ago I ended up in the ER. Once my sorority sisters found out, 2 of them drove straight to the hospital after work to spend time with me and make sure I was ok – even after I told them not to worry, they showed up anyway. Another (whom I’d only met once before) came to my home twice a day for a week to give me injections – I have a TERRIBLE needle-phobia. Another brought me food because I was too weak to cook or get anything for myself. Did I mention I’d just moved and had known them for less than 6 months? Do I have family? Yes. Friends? Of course. – But hands down in every city I’ve moved to I’ve found an instant support system in my sorority sisters.

3. Let’s be real – have you asked this same question of Predominantly White Fraternities & Sororities? If not, have a seat.

It seems to me that we’re often over critical of the organizations in minority communities while not offering any alternatives or stepping up to the plate to fill in the perceived gaps. What is it that BGLOs (or the Urban League or INROADS, etc.) are not doing for minorities that our counterparts are?

To that point, BGLOs offer their members something that few minority organizations do well these days – networking.  I work in human resources and I’ll tell you very bluntly we don’t do a great job of supporting each other professionally. BGLOs do this well and support each other professionally through establishing connections, providing career advice, and sometimes coaching while expecting nothing in return.

If you question our relevance, I challenge you to ask yourself if you question the relevance of all organizations similar to us regardless of race affiliation.

I’ll agree with the author that we have a PR issue. We’ve allowed headlines about hazing to overshadow the good (and often hard) work that we do. While I’m not concerned with re-establishing our influence or prominence among black national leaders for PR purposes, I DO think we could afford to spend some concerted time and effort evaluating our strategies moving forward to make sure we’re driving impact in a meaningful and sustainable way in our communities.

And yes we will continue to step. And why shouldn’t we? It’s one of the few pieces of African-American culture that many haven’t been able misappropriate AND its GREAT exercise. I mean really, it does wonders for your abs, legs, and glutes.

-Me

A Proud, Active member of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc. since 2003

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