Forty Years of Sisterhood
by Mary Hope Roseneau
Photography by Christian Lee
Three lovely ladies met up with me at Beaufort Waterfront Park yesterday, and I must admit, I envy them. They are part of a sisterhood that has been active in Beaufort for 40 years, and have made friendships and connections that reach all over the country and beyond our borders. They are members of the Nu Delta Omega chapter of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. It’s a sorority for black women either in college, or after graduation, and it’s all about service and friendship.
Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. (AKA) began with a dream in the heart of a young Howard University student, Ethel Hedgeman. Along with eight other students, in 1908 she started the first black sorority that has grown to nearly 300,000 members world-wide. Through the years the membership has addressed issues such as women's suffrage, segregation and inequality, poverty and poor health care and educational inequity. The organization emphasizes service: whether in Africa, or to people next door, and always strives to lift women up by creating bonds of friendship.
Alvesta Robertson, Andrea Allen, and Romona Gaither, now all retired from successful careers, easily shared many stories of being there for their fellow sisters through the years and the importance of service to the community. They talked like old friends do, helping one another get the facts straight, adding humor here and there and nodding in agreement throughout.
Andrea Allen, a mental health counselor, and Romona Gaither, a teacher, were young women just starting their families and careers in Beaufort. Having been members in college, they petitioned the national organization to start a local AKA chapter. They were told they needed 15 members to sign up. They rounded them up them, and on March 29, 1980 in a meeting at Penn Center on St. Helena Island, they organized the first meeting. Other charter members are Selma Perry, Emma Campbell, Ida Campbell, Geneva Cole and Barbara Marshel. Alvesta came to Beaufort a few years later as a minister’s wife and school librarian.
Romona has the seniority in membership, having been a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha for 62 years. She wore a pin indicating her lifetime membership in the sorority, and recalled the many service projects the group has done: Backpacks for school children; pillow dresses for African girls; “Shoes for the Souls;” HELP of Beaufort; Bluffton food pantries; and Martin Luther King Day Service projects, such as playground beautification, are just a few she mentioned. And, of course, the annual scholarships the group funds.
Fundraising for these projects is always an activity, and the annual Pink Ice Ball is their biggest event. It’s an elegant, formal affair, usually held on Hilton Head, that attracts close to 600 attendees. They each expressed concern that the virus may affect it next year, but hope not.
Each year the Beaufort chapter, Nu Delta Omega, awards a college scholarship to a young lady graduating from each of the high schools in Beaufort and Jasper Counties. This gift is to encourage and support young people in their quests for a college education, and of course, they encourage them to join an AKA chapter while in college. The Beaufort group is proud to say that in 2016 an undergraduate chapter was formed with their guidance at the University of South Carolina Beaufort, and was the 1000th such chapter of the national sorority!
What’s the future for these ladies? They are all enjoying retirement, while staying busier than ever. Alvesta is very involved as Historian of the local AKA chapter, and also the Wesley United Methodist Church and The Mather School museum, the former black school on Ribaut Road, now where Technical College of the Lowcountry is located. Romona enjoys golf, reading, puzzles, and before the virus, traveling with some AKA sponsored trips. Andrea continues to work part-time as a mental health evaluator for Head Start children, serves on several community boards, enjoys her grandchildren, and cares for older family members. These friends remain committed to all the Nu Delta Omega meetings and service opportunities and have learned to hold meetings on Zoom, but they keep them fun!
All three ladies stressed that they do not belong to a social organization. It is one designed for service, networking and lifting up each other. But it didn’t hurt that one meeting they had was a wine and painting party. The fun times and social interactions are just frosting on the cake!
Up Close with the Nu Delta Omega sisters:
Alvesta: She brought a bag with “Believe in Yourself” emblazoned on it. This sorority is one that helps women do this, and confidence is the main ingredient.
Andrea: Commitment to the community is the key. She feels making a connection to a young person going into a new field with a more experienced woman is vitally important, and she has made this a priority.
Romona: Networking opportunities are important. We need to pool together our talents and skills so we can all achieve our dreams.