In just about a month the second flood of Blue & Gold will descend upon Indianapolis as Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority officially celebrates its centennial year. On Nov. 12, 1922, seven educators — Mary Lou Allison Gardner Little, Dorothy Hanley Whiteside, Vivian Irene White Marbury, Nannie Mae Gahn Johnson, Hattie Mae Anette Dulin Redford, Bessie Mae Downy Rhoades Martin and Cubena McClure — founded the sorority as a means of advocacy, racial uplift and educational service to women and children.
There’s a lot to learn from a group of women in their early 20’s who saw a need in their community and vowed to address it despite the social conditions they experienced — namely racism and sexism.
These seven were among the first to trailblaze at Butler University, a predominantly white campus missioned to be equitable and accessible for all people, including women and people of color as they pursued their teaching degrees. Today, we boast more than 90,000 members around the globe making impact through scholarship, sisterhood and service. As I reflect on the legacy they left for the members and descendants, it is clear that we have much to gain from the pathway they created.
As a member of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority and as a founder legacy, I believe one piece of wisdom I have gained is to make no excuses. In the face of continued racism, sexism and other injustices, we have to be bold about our positionality and our advocacy on the things that matter the most to us.
Today, it is so easy to scroll past an injustice, turn the channel or simply ignore what many of our ancestors fought against without wavering. In many ways, people have become desensitized to the harm that is happening to our people and even to themselves. We’ve normalized trauma and therefore are not intentional about addressing it. We can be full of excuses that interrupt our need to fight for ourselves and our future generations. For our seven pearls, it didn’t matter that the KKK leader’s home was directly across the street from their college nor that they were part of a select few gaining entry into the school, they realized the responsibility they had to the women and children in their communities. They would become educators by any means necessary and serve. If they could do it in the 20’s with far fewer resources, why can’t we now? We must give up our excuses and get to work to better our communities.
Another piece of wisdom I have gained is that our works will speak for us, so we don’t have to parade our deeds. One of the most valuable lessons I learned from my great-grandmother, Vivian Irene White Marbury, is that she didn’t go around heralding that she was a SGRHO founder. In fact, I never heard her utter those words. Instead, she embodied being a Sigma woman through her actions, her service, her poise and her words. What she did was not about her; I believe she saw herself simply as a vessel of service to others.
What if we could all do that today? Be more concerned about our neighbors, the children in our city, the people we interact with instead of our own gains. Serve others without having to post on social media, give anonymously, share our wisdom without expectations of a return favor. I believe we would be a richer people and more selfless if we could only be fully in service to others.
Lastly, as we approach the 100th anniversary of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, I realize that the torch was lit to be carried forward. There was likely much resistance and difficulty to get that flame established in 1922, and over the years it has both flared and dimmed, but either way the torch was meant to be carried forward. Not by just one, but by the many who realize the impact of community activism, change, education and community.
As we continue to navigate some of the very social issues that they did in the 1920’s, we must identify new ways to keep the fire ablaze. We have to work together, we have to care, and we have to realize our collective power. As that happens, each flame in the torch will burn brighter and serve as a representation of our unity and impact.
To the members and affiliates of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, an early happy Founder’s Day! May your thoughts be centered around your individual role in carrying the torch forward through the next 100 years. To those in our communities, may you be inspired by the actions of our seven pearls and realize your own purpose and role in carrying the torch forward.
Dr. Khalilah A. Shabazz shares wisdom, lessons and insights on personal, social and societal issues of today. Contact her at email@example.com.