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Sigma Gamma Rho celebrates Black excellence, yesterday and today

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In 1922 — when the Ku Klux Klan had a stranglehold on Indiana politics and culture — seven Black women at Butler University founded Sigma Gamma Rho, the only historically Black sorority established on a predominately white campus. Now, 100 years later, the sorority is still thriving at Butler and members still strive to achieve their goal of developing leadership skills and becoming civic leaders in the areas of education and health care.

The creation of Sigma Gamma Rho is in itself a victory over white supremacy. At the time of its creation, Butler University’s policy only allowed 10 African American students to be enrolled each year. The sorority was created, in part, to protest discriminatory practices as well as the role of the Ku Klux Klan in Indiana — with its leader D.C. Stephenson living right next to Butler’s campus at the time.

Beyond protesting segregation, the original seven founders also wanted to emphasize sisterhood, service and scholarship. The organization has over 500 chapters worldwide, including in Bermuda, Germany and the Bahamas. Locally, the sorority has chapters at IUPUI, Ball State University and Indiana State University.

Currently, there are over 160 members of Sigma Gamma Rho’s graduate student members throughout Indianapolis. To celebrate its 100-year celebration, a national conference will be held in Indianapolis in July. The event will include workshops for sorority members, as well as community celebrations.

TaMeca Joshua, advisor for the Alpha Chapter of Sigma Gamma Rho sorority at Butler University, said the event will give Indianapolis sorors the chance to highlight all the work members of the sorority do in Indianapolis.

“We’re really proud of the fact that the sorority was founded at Butler, and we’re proud that our sorority is able to celebrate in our city,” Joshua said. “It’s great exposure and … want to show the people of Indianapolis that even though you may not see us all the time, we’re out here doing the best we can to better our environment.”

While the COVID-19 pandemic limited the activities sorority members were able to do in person the last three years, they were still able to host charity drives for food and other items for people in need. In 2021, members collected items for Project Cradle Care, which is a collaboration between the sorority and March of Dimes. Project Cradle Care aims to help teen mothers financially and emotionally. The project also provides new mothers with classes and resources to guide them through their first year of motherhood.

Members of the sorority also do a lot with local children and teens. A partnership between the sorority and USA Swimming helps teach African Americans and other people of color about water safety, as African American children are more likely to drown than children in any other demographic, according to USA Swimming Foundation. On the second Saturday of March, the sorority hosts a youth symposium with the goal of improving educational and behavioral outcomes for children. While the symposium has been held virtually since 2020, Joshua hopes it will be held in-person this year

Contact staff writer Breanna Cooper at 317-762-7848. Follow her on Twitter @BreannaNCooper.

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