Lecture, author and professor speaks at AKA event

The Mahoning Valley’s black community owes a large debt of gratitude to the philanthropic efforts of local women’s organizations that have left their positive marks on thousands of youths over the years.

Black women have been the backbone of families and churches for decades, and they have made numerous sacrifices to ensure the success of their children and ultimately our community.

As we celebrate Women’s History Month this month, I am focusing on the black sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha and its Epsilon Mu Omega and Delta Delta chapters.

As part of their Founder’s Day observance March 18-20, they are bringing in Harvard professor and lecturer Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham to speak on the subject “When Black Lives Matter: A Historical Perspective,” at 5 p.m. March 18 at Youngstown State University’s Kilcawley Center. She will speak in the center’s Chestnut Room. The event is free.

According to its website, nine young black women established Alpha Kappa Alpha on the campus of Howard University in Washington, D.C., in 1908.

It was the first Greek-lettered sorority in the nation established by black college women. Its founder was Ethel Hedgeman Lyle.

Since then, the sorority has flourished into an organization of more than 283,000 college-trained members, “bound by the bonds of sisterhood and empowered by a commitment to servant-leadership that is both domestic and international in its scope.”

The AKA’s current international president is Dorothy Buckhanan Wilson.

The AKA Epsilon Mu Omega Chapter in Youngstown was chartered May 21, 1949, by 10 young ladies, according to its website. The original members were Gertrude Guilford, Arcelean Hampton, Winifred Johnson, Ethel Love, Esterine Paige, Carolyn Patton, Lucille Ruff, Lillian Jackson, Evelyn Stanton and Mary E. Lovett Belton.

The AKA’s Delta Delta Chapter of Youngstown State University (Youngstown College back then) was initiated and chartered May 8, 1953. Charter members were Barbara Smith, Bernice Allen, Caroline Browder, Patty Jean Dismukes, Wilma Walker, Laura Taylor, Lillian Jennings, Lois B. Sellers, Metholyn Cornwell and Verna Jones.

Among the chapters’ goals are to be “a champion for the causes of educational enrichment, improved health and family strengthening.”

My longtime friend Madonna Chism Pinkard, community relations director for 21 WFMJ-TV and host of “Community Connection,” is an AKA, and she helped provide me with the information on Higginbotham.

“She is a dynamo,” Madonna said, adding the area is fortunate “to have someone of her caliber to come and speak with us on the institutionalization of black history.”

Higginbotham, as a child, had a chance to experience the presence and teachings of Carter G. Woodson, Madonna added.

Woodson was a black historian, author, journalist and founder of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History. Higginbotham became association president in January.

Woodson is known for creating Negro History Week, which evolved into Black History Month. One of his best-known works was the book “The Mis-Education of the Negro,” published in 1933.

According to her vitae, Higginbotham, widow of federal Judge A. Leon Higginbotham Jr., is professor of history and African and African-American Studies at Harvard. She has been a tenured faculty member there since 1993.

She began her teaching career in Milwaukee. She also has taught at Dartmouth College, the University of Maryland and the University of Pennsylvania.

Higginbotham earned her doctorate from the University of Rochester in American history, her master’s degree from Howard, and her bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

She is the author of the prize-winning book “Righteous Discontent: The Women’s Movement in the Black Baptist Church 1880-1920.” She also is co-editor with Henry Louis Gates Jr. of the “African American National Biography,” a 12-volume resource that presents black American history through the lives of more than 5,000 biographical entries.

Last year, she received the National Humanities Medal from President Barack Obama, and in March 2015, she was named one of the “Top 25 Women in Higher Education” by Diverse Magazine.

Judge Nathaniel R. Jones, a Youngstown native and retired from the 6th U.S. Circuit of Appeals, is scheduled to introduce Higginbotham.

Again, her presentation is free. A reception follows.

The event is sponsored in part by the Youngstown Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, and YSU’s Bitonte College of Health and Human Services and Student Diversity Programs.

Ernie Brown Jr., a regional editor at The Vindicator, writes a monthly minority-affairs column. Contact him at ebrown@vindy.com