201: How Being First-Generation in a BGLO Has Changed My Life
I have been wanting to do a show about being Black Greek for years, but never really got around to it because, if I’m for real, I hadn’t fully grasped how I wanted to approach it. When I realized that January 13 fell on a Thursday in 20 TWENTY-TWO, the 109th year, I just had to finally make it happen.
While there are several angles that I considered, I thought I’d start with the one that focuses on how being first-generation and a member of BGLO has changed my life. Also, as I consider all of the possible topics that I could have covered, I realize that this will be the kind of talk that’s going to happen in multiple parts, and future ones being with guests–I think a format that offers multiple perspectives will create a more robust conversation and do a topic such as this one more justice.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t show love to Benjamin Perez, AKA Perez the Advisor with whom I actually had my first conversation about being first-generation and greek. It was the kind of talk that opened me up to being able to have this one. He’s got a really dope first-gen platform and hosts the Latinx Greek Life podcast.
Unfamiliar Territory – 4:00
I didn’t know anything about greek life when I went to college. So, I didn’t step foot on campus looking forward to the day that I’d finally become the legacy that would make my Mama and/or Aunties come to tears.
How could I become a part of something I didn’t understand? How could I feel an enthusiasm about one more than the other when it was all something that was so forgein to me? What did all of it mean? How was I supposed to know the unspoken rules to the game?
So, as a first-generation college student, the journey to becoming a member of a BGLO was a process that required a lot of patience, thought, and research for me.
In hindsight, I take great pride in knowing that the decision to pursue membership into Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. was because I eventually came to know, without a shadow of a doubt, that it was the absolute right organization for me.
Why I Chose Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.– 5:05
A few things that really shaped my thoughts and feelings about joining a sorority in the first place:
- I went to an HBCU and there was an undeniable presence of Black greeks on campus. I was fascinated by the culture of the organizations. I was intrigued by the stepping and strolling. It was the programs that the greeks hosted–oratoricals, pageants, pajama jams in the gym, study halls, etiquette workshops, and financial awareness seminars–they did it all. A number of the leaders on campus were greek, and I had a few of them take me under their wing. Back then, we had plots in the yard. (I really still hate that those are gone.) I remember alumni arriving on campus and swarming to their area of the yard like bees to honey, and for days, I watched the joy, laughter, and commordery of being home. It was this sense of ownership, pride, and sacredness that was undeniable, and it had my attention.
- Dr. Kim Q. B. Leathers, my then Dean of Honors College, who also happened to be an Alpha Chapter AKA, was instrumental in my journey to becoming greek. She was the one who introduced me to black fraternal organizations that existed before BGLOs were even a thing, and taught me how their missions helped push Black communities forward. It was because of her that I got to understand the historical significance of Black societies that led me to have an even greater emphasis being greek. As someone who has a thing for history, a large part of the reason that I went to Shaw, I continued to feel even more compelled to move in the direction of being a member of a BGLO–how could I not be a part of something with such rich history and profound impact?
- An alumnus reached out to me because of a local chapter of Delta (Knightdale-Wake Forest Alumnae) who wanted to bring students to campus for a tour on a weekend. I put together a whole program for this group. Later, KWF had an end-of-year banquet and invited me to attend because I would be recognized. I was so blown away by the experience. Until that point, I can’t recall being in a room packed full of such dynamic women whose mere presence gave me chills and left me feeling speechless. I left that event that day knowing Delta was it for me.
How Being Black Greek has Changed My Life– 16:05
I can’t even begin to count the ways in which a Delta has had an impact. It’s truly helped make me a better woman and a more empowered Black woman. I will admit that I think I took for granted some of the experience as an undergraduate because I went to an HBCU where it already felt like family and taking care of each other–being first-generation was “normal.” (And, I didn’t actually know I was first-generation when I was in college.) I was a part of honors college; therefore, I was already nerded out.
I think BGLOs have had a tremendous impact on the overall well-being and (I’m going to say loosely) success of those who are both Black and first-generation college students and graduates. I think an overlooked aspect of being a part of a BGLO, especially as a first-gen, is that we take our commitments for life. So, being a Delta didn’t stop once I got my degree, and in truth, I think it was post-college when the fullness of what it meant to be in a BGLO started to hit me.
When I first moved to Mississippi, it was Sorors who were the first ones to show up, help me move, and even make sure I was good. It was Sorors who invited me to their home so I wouldn’t be alone for my first Thanksgiving in Mississippi. It was a soror who invited me to my house where that night I’d meet the love of my life, Dr. Kyng. One of the women who is now my best friend, I met through a Soror.
As a scholar, graduate school comes to mind first. I’d moved again and was no more than 10 hours away from home, and again I didn’t know a single person when I got there, but I was never without a community.
As a professional, while I may have been a minority when working in predominantly white spaces, I still had a large group of Black women who were accessible for guidance, wisdom, and support. Even more, it was being able to connect directly with sorors in higher education and build a community outside of my workplace, share resources, and have a safe space to grow–one where they’d even tell you, “Sis, that ain’t it, get out!”
As an entrepreneur, I can say that in almost everything I have ever done, in some way a soror has been connected. All the way from the first person to purchase my first book to a magazine feature, ending up on a top 20 women to watch list, and getting my first major speaking engagement.
Being Delta, (of course, a Black greek), has created opportunities to connect with other Black greeks. It’s this understanding when it comes to being Black greek, no matter the organization, be it that you went to an HBCU or PWI, and in my opinion, when we’re out in the world, I think we do a pretty good job at looking out for each other.
In life, period, it’s having my sisters who just have my back. People who’re going to celebrate life’s milestones and cry when it gets to be a bit tough. It’s being able to call on sisters who are a little more experienced in life to get sound advice for anything–ones who could give you realness and tell you to put on your big girl panties and keep going. It’s being able to reach back to younger sisters taking all of the wisdom I’ve gained and helping them guide along the way, too.
What I Realize Now– 37:52
It’s been putting this show together that’s helped me actualize how significant being a part of a sorority, but more specifically, a BGLO has been for me as a once first-generation college student and now graduate.
It’s made me realize that for all of the things that I may have felt like I was missing at one point, I’ve had a solution or at least a way to one. I may not have been able to call home with college and/or graduate school-related issues, to get help with navigating professionally, or figuring it out as an entrepreneur, but I have had the community I have needed to help me get through all of it. I’ve been able to lean on my sisters–they’ve been filling in the gaps all along.
Now, I see I have always had access to what, and who, I’ve needed. I may not have realized it at first, but I do now. And it’s, for lack of better words, “shame on me” that I may not have asked for help in situations when I’ve needed it. And, I’ve blown myself away in this moment thinking about the fact that I still have access to who and what I need for all the days ahead.
It is critical for us as first-generation college students and graduates to find a solid community. It doesn’t have to be a fraternity or sorority, but find a community. As a matter of fact, I’ll even say, it may be necessary to become a part of more than one community to get what you need. And, let me go ahead and say this, it may not always be free to access those communities; however, you have to know what it’s worth to you to have a seat at that table.
Sending love to a few chapters that have been instrumental on my journey:
The Almighty Alpha Rho Chapter
Clinton Mississippi Alumnae
Knightdale-Wake Forest Alumnae
Johnston County Alumnae
Western Wake Alumnae
There is truly none greater than Delta Sigma Theta.
First-Generation College Students and Greek Life Research
Resource One by Dr. Tyrone Smiley
Resource Two by Dr. Sean Ryan
Resource Three by Dr. Marlon Gibson
Resource Four by Dr. Eric Weaver
Resource Five by Krista Rosner, Kaitlin Frazier, Kaitlin, and Alexandria Kennedy
Resource Six by Chad Aren, Dan Bureau, Ph.D., Helen-Grace Ryan, Ph.D., Vasti Torres, Ph.D.