By Jared D. Childress | OBSERVER Staff Writer
California Secretary of State Dr. Shirley N. Weber had a message for the illustrious ladies of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc.
“I hope you are prepared for the war,” Weber, 74, said. “There’s nothing worse than being at war and thinking you’re at peace – and there is a war for our dignity, there’s a war for our compassion, there’s a war for our commitment.”
Weber delivered the keynote address at the annual “AKA Day at the Capitol,” the first in-person since the COVID-19 pandemic. Sorors traveled to Sacramento from across the state for the two-day event held May 21-22.
The event themed “Poised to Educate, Inspire and Mobilize” focused on advocacy at the city, county, state and federal levels. It featured presentations from various Black members of the California State Legislature and panels on mental health, criminal justice reform, the rising suicide rate of Black teens, and Black maternal and infant mortality rate.
Weber rarely looked at her notes as she delivered an impassioned speech about critical race theory, the importance of the ballot, police brutality, reparations, and the African American opportunity gap.
“It is tragic that in this nation of wealth, in this state of tremendous opportunity, that African American children still are at the lowest performance in the state,” Weber said. “We are the fourth richest economy in the world, we have the best university system anyone has ever imagined … all of this sits in this state, and yet it appears to be an illusion for our children.”
Education was a reality for the college-educated AKAs listening to Weber from the dining tables in the Terrace Room of the the Citizen Hotel, a boutique hotel overlooking the Capitol in downtown Sacramento.
The accomplished women however, were there to strategize how to use their education and resources to help their community.
“Their role in the community, particularly the Black community, is significant,” Weber told The OBSERVER. She added that for members of non-Black Greek-letter organizations service work ends on graduation day. But for members of Black fraternities and sororities, their activism “becomes much more powerful” post-graduation.
Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc., established in January 1908 at Howard University in Washington D.C., is the first Greek-letter organization for college-educated Black women. The organization in 1939 became the first to take life membership to the NAACP.
Carrie Malenab, president of the local Eta Gamma Omega chapter, said the sorority’s motto is, “Service to all mankind.”
“A lot of people look at sororities and just think about parties,” Malenab said amid the buzzing crowd of pink and green. “And, yes, we like to have a good time, but our main goal is to make our communities better.”
The local chapter’s social action committee has led a voter registration campaign, with a special emphasis on teenagers as 16- and 17-year-olds are allowed to preregister.
AKA also has conducted a letter writing campaign for the federal passage of the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act. In California, the Momnibus Act was signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom in 2021. The act aims to improve racial disparities in maternal and infant health at a time when Black women are three times more likely to die during or after childbirth when compared to white women.
“We in the United States have the highest mortality rates for women who are pregnant in all of the developed nations in the world,” Malenab said. “Serena Williams nearly died [after pregnancy], so what does that mean for the rest of us?”
The tennis great Williams, a four-time Olympic gold medalist, penned an essay in 2022 in which she recounted a near-death experience after giving birth to her daughter Olympia in 2017. She felt symptoms of blood clots, but her requests for medical attention were ignored. She insisted her doctor be called. Her OB-GYN found blood clots in her lungs heading towards her heart. She then had immediate life-saving surgery.
The social justice initiatives chosen by the AKAs are the reality for many Blacks regardless of socioeconomic status. They demand consistent work.
Weber encouraged the professional women to not let up on their program of action.
“I want to challenge you that even in your busyness — don’t get tired. We cannot afford to get tired,” Weber said. “This is the war of our generation. … We stand on the struggles, the hearts, the difficulties, the challenges and the lives of so many African Americans who gave all they had to get us here. And I want to challenge you today to join us in this journey for excellence.”