Thursday, July 17, 2008

30,000 AKA's March on Washington

Thousands Join in Sorority March to the Capitol
By Sindya N. Bhanoo and Keith L. Alexander
Washington Post Staff Writers

Pennsylvania Avenue was a sea of bright pink and green this morning as more than 30,000 people, most of them women of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, marched to the Capitol steps to call attention to the need for education, health care and employment.

The march was part of the sorority's week-long centennial, which the women have been celebrating in Washington since Sunday. AKA is the nation's oldest African American sorority, founded on the campus of Howard University.

As a sign of unity, the march featured members of other predominately black fraternities and sororities, each donning their own groups' colors. The other associations were Alpha Phi Alpha, Delta Sigma Theta, Kappa Alpha Psi, Omega Psi Phi, Zeta Phi Beta, Phi Beta Sigma, Sigma Gamma Rho and Iota Phi Theta.

Many of the participants said the march was one of the largest gatherings of black sororities and fraternities they had attended.

"Often when we join these groups, it's competitive, but here when we come together, it's a reminder of why we got started in the first place, to help our communities and for academic excellence," said Linda Jaha, 50, an AKA from Oklahoma City. Jaha was joined by her husband, Thomas, 50, a member of Kappa Alpha Psi.

It took marchers about a half-hour to travel from the National Council of Negro Women's headquarters at Sixth Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW to the Capitol.

As the marchers made their way down Pennsylvania Avenue, workers in buildings along the route waved and cheered them on. Some of the workers as a tribute waved their pinky fingers, one of the AKA's symbolic gestures.

As the temperature climbed to the mid-90s, the heat became a major factor. Many of the women wore AKA-emblazoned sun visors and carried umbrellas to fend off the sun. At least four women were stretched out on the Capitol lawn receiving medical attention for heat exhaustion. Organizers handed out bottles of water and set up a spritzing tent.

"Yeah, it's hot, but it's worth it," said Lillian D. Wright, 51, an AKA from Pittsburgh who was attending with her daughter, also a member. "We'll never see this again in our life."

At the Capitol, the marchers listened to speeches from members of Congress, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and several representatives who are AKAs: Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Tex.), Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Tex.) and Diane Watson (D-Calif.).

© 2008 The Washington Post Company.