Marching in spirit of King
• Photo gallery: Women with a cause to march in Martin Luther King Jr. parade
By MAUREEN O'CONNELL
Advertiser Staff Writer
Sorority sisters on O'ahu representing three Greek-letter groups formed by African-American college women will march together for the first time in tomorrow morning's annual Martin Luther King Jr. parade.
In the spirit of the slain civil rights leader's call to remedy injustices, the women, who have previously covered the parade route in separate units, are banding together for the first time to advance the cause of an international women's rights organization.
Their "Breaking the Silence, One Woman at a Time" campaign also marks the first time the chapters have teamed up to support a cause that reaches beyond Hawai'i.
Alpha Kappa Alpha, Delta Sigma Theta and Zeta Phi Beta members will be outfitted for the parade in sorority colors — pale pink, red and royal blue T-shirts, respectively. But the shirt design will be the same.
On the front: female figures hand-in-hand with the message, "united in breaking the silence, one woman at a time." On the back: contact information for Women for Women International, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that provides aid to women survivors of war, helping them gain stability and self-sufficiency.
Instead of tossing candy to the curbside crowd — stretching from the parade's start at Magic Island and along Kalākaua Avenue through the Waikīkī area — the sorority marchers will pass out purple wristbands stenciled with Women for Women's Web site. Then, during the rally in Kapi'olani Park, they'll distribute fliers and "story cards" profiling women in eight countries in need of yearlong sponsors, and solicit donations.
"This is an opportunity for us to ... collectively make a bigger impact than we can make separately," said Regina Williams, a Delta Sigma Theta member.
The three chapters have always maintained friendly ties, supporting one another's community service efforts, fundraisers and galas for causes ranging from assisting the homeless to honoring high school and college student standouts.
"We've all worked independently on programs established here," said Zeta Phi Beta member Shelli McDow.
With this new effort, working together on the "Breaking the Silence, One Woman at a Time" campaign, McDow said, the chapters could establish Hawai'i as a "hub" for an effort with potential to eventually include scores of sorority groups and others on the Mainland.
All three sororities were founded at Howard University in Washington, D.C., beginning with Alpha Kappa Alpha in 1908. With a membership of 350,000, Delta Sigma Theta, founded in 1913, is the largest among Greek-letter groups formed by African-American college women. Zeta Phi Beta took shape in 1920.
The social organizations all stress involvement in community service, scholarship and social justice issues.
Williams came up with the idea for "Breaking the Silence, One Woman at a Time" last fall, after watching "The Oprah Winfrey Show" feature "Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide," a book by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, which includes a detailed look at Women for Women's work.
"Sometimes, when you're flipping through the channels, there are some things that stick with you," Williams said.
Days later, she said, "I was still thinking about the women" and the atrocities foisted upon them by war, civil strife and other conflicts."
In response to her own "What are you going to do about it?" moment, Williams reached out to her sorority sisters. The Delta Sigma Theta chapter, in turn, linked up with the others. "This was a way for us to do something a little bit bigger than ourselves — bigger than our individual organizations," she said.
Katchia Gethers, an Alpha Kappa Alpha member, said the campaign bundles together matters of deep concern to the sororities — issues affecting women, the condition of their communities and international peace.
As the campaign was pieced together, Gethers said, "It became something that we were all passionate about."
The theme for the 22nd annual parade, organized by the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Coalition-Hawai'i, is King's statement: "We may have all come on different ships, but we're in the same boat now."
Reflecting on that and King's vision for a future in which all people are judged by the "content of their character," and injustices are recognized and remedied, Williams said of the sororities: "We know that his dream was a lot larger than just getting out there and marching. We want to make sure that we are really encompassing what his dream was about."