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<br />Deltas descend on Memphis

The Southern Regional Convention of Delta Sigma Theta Incorporated unfurls in Memphis this week. The Memphis Alumnae Chapter and the Shelby County Alumnae chapters are host for the gathering. by Joy Doss
Special to the Tri-State Defender

Delta Sigma Theta Incorporated National President Cynthia Butler-McIntyre and Southern Regional Director Lois Gilder are the anchor points as the Southern Regional Convention of the nation’s largest women’s organization unfurls in Memphis this week.

 Lois Gilder

 Cynthia Butler-McIntyre
WDIA Radio personality Bev Johnson (left), a Delta, helped salute her Soro, entertainer Nancy Wilson, during a recent visit to Memphis. (Photo by Tyrone P. Easley)

Deltas at their 1921 national convention

The Memphis Alumnae Chapter and the Shelby County Alumnae Chapters are host for the gathering, which will dress the town in the sorority’s signature red – or crimson and crème if you will – beginning Thursday (June 30). About 4,000 Deltas are expected to participate.

Delta Sigma Theta has nearly 250,000 members, with chapters in locales as far flung as Germany and Korea. A roll call produces celebrities, fearless advocates, risk takers and history makers such as Lena Horne, Mary McLeod Bethune, Betty Shabazz, Keisha Knight Pulliam, Ruby Dee and Barbara Jordan.

Memphis Deltas that have profoundly impacted the local political, cultural and educational landscape include Maxine Smith, Lois DeBerry, Beverly Robertson, Tomeka Hart, Judge Deborah Means Henderson and a host of others. As far back as Mary Church Terrell and her anti-lynching campaign, Delta women have been making bold moves in Memphis, the nation and in the world.

“Delta Sigma Theta is distinctive because Delta Sigma Theta is a sisterhood of predominately black, college-educated women who are bound by a common commitment to sisterhood, scholarship and service,” said Butler-McIntyre in a pre-convention interview with the New Tri-State Defender.

“This commitment allows us to implement change in our communities, in our country and throughout the world in a real and meaningful way.”

As an organization, Delta Sigma Theta has played a pivotal role in essentially every political, economic and social movement that has taken place in this country since its inception in 1913, Butler-McIntyre said.

“Our founders came together in order to provide support to the underserved; to educate and stimulate participation in the establishment of positive public policy… I have been blessed to come across so many Delta women from so many places and so many walks of life. They have all inspired me in some way – both in Delta and in my personal life.”

Gilder counts Dr. Dorothy Height and Dr. Thelma Daley among her mentors. She pledged in the early 1960s, with racism rampant in the south and the biggest crisis facing the African-American community. She attributes her commitment to service and thus her inspiration to join a service organization such as Delta to her parents, who were active in the community.

“My mom was the advisor at Beta Chi, Lane University…(and) my father was president of the NAACP in Jackson, Tenn.,” said Gilder, who recalled going to marches and demonstrations and the sorority’s alignment with the NAACP to advocate for fair treatment, job protection and equal access to education.

‘Called to serve’

The three-day Southern Regional Convention features internal workshops on generating new ideas for community building, leadership and sisterhood, and also includes several events open to the public.

The keystone event is the bookmobile, which aims to collect 5,000 books to be donated to pre-school aged children in Memphis. Donations will be accepted at the Cook Convention Center, beginning at 9 a.m. on the first day of the gathering.

Gilder and Butler-McIntyre stand united on the importance of education as a foundation for the success of children and the key to breaking the cycle of poverty and hopelessness.

“Education leads to good jobs and financial stability. Good jobs and financial stability lead to good benefits – benefits such as health insurance. Health insurance provides access to quality health care. Quality health care is the key to prevention, and prevention leads to healthy and sustainable communities,” said Butler-McIntyre.

The sorority has established several programs designed to mentor and encourage teenagers. Among them are the Dr. Betty Shabazz Delta Academy for  girls aged 11-14; GEMS (Growing and Empowering Myself Successfully) for  girls aged 14-18; and most recently EMBODI, in which they partner with other organizations to mentor young men.

With the founders in mind

Delta Sigma Theta puts the force of the sorority behind its sisters to help them actualize their respective big pictures and to continue the organization’s history-making legacy, said Gilder.

“Our distinctiveness comes in the fact that we reach out and touch each other, encourage and inspire each other. For instance, as a body, we rallied around Alexis Herman (the first African-American to become the Secretary of Labor…We also rallied around Soror Vashti MacKenzie as she sought to be the first African-American female bishop in the church.”

In 2013, the sorority, which began with 22 women on the campus of Howard University,  will mark its 100th anniversary. Gilder sees the future building upon the past and looks forward to passing the torch to the next generation.

“The women of Delta Sigma Theta will always be one of the first – if not the first – to aid and advocate for the least, last and left out,” she said.

“We are the community and the community is us.”

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