By Ta-Lori White
I’ve been a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority for more than 30 years and I can honestly say no other commitment in my life has been more impactful on me as a Black woman than being a member of this extraordinary sisterhood.
On Jan. 23 my initiating Pi Chapter, on the campus of UCLA, celebrated its 100th anniversary. And in honor of this historic event, the current members of our chapter hosted a centennial celebration on UCLA’s campus Jan. 19-23.
I was excited to attend as I have not seen many of my sorority sisters in many years, not to mention that I hadn’t been back on UCLA’s campus for quite some time. So the nostalgia of my collegiate experience came rushing back when I saw the campus flooded with a sea of educated, professional and world-changing Black women returning home to pay homage to our beloved sorority and chapter.
I was initiated into Delta Sigma Theta in spring 1992, along with 17 other women who called themselves, “Njoki Sala,” which means “Beautiful women who have returned home.” We were a group of young, determined and focused women who were excited to join the ranks of the many exceptional Pi Chapter women who came before us. Eventually they blazed behind us when we would pass down the torch of sisterhood, social action, and Black excellence on UCLA’s predominately white campus.
I sat proudly at the opening dedication service, listening to UCLA representatives honor Pi Chapter’s 100-year existence on its campus and hearing them “right a wrong” when they acknowledged the chapter’s historic contribution in 1923 of being the first Greek-letter organization on the school’s campus and basically apologizing for not acknowledging the organization’s actual existence in its yearbooks until 1950.
So, in honor of our centennial celebration, they announced that the university would be recognizing the legacy of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority’s Pi Chapter with three campus markers. The first will be a three-dimensional rendering of our sorority’s sacred crest in their Black Bruin Resource Center, the second a banner in the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life, and the third will be a permanent plaque placed outside a hall in Meyerhoff Park, honoring our five founding Pi Chapter charter members: Alma Green Covington, Miriam Matthews, Marian Robinson McCard, Marian Carter Moore and Ruth Sykes Webster.
Against all odds, those five young, Black women united and chartered the first student-led organization of any kind on the UCLA campus. And with the phenomenal acts of vision, courage and unity, these women sparked a new day in Los Angeles, because never again would any event affecting Black Angelenos go unnoticed.
As a result of what those five Black women were able to accomplish in 1923, the work of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority would forever transform the experience of Black students on UCLA’s campus and the lives of Black Angelenos throughout the city.
Just imagine. Five young, Black women on a predominately white campus in the 1920’s balancing racism, academics and their social lives, while never losing sight of our people and our continued fight for justice and equality throughout our communities.
And the founding members of Pi Chapter were not only pacesetters, but trailblazers, creating an uncharted path of being the first Black Greek organization on UCLA’s campus. The chapter also became the blueprint for other Black and white Greek-lettered organizations to eventually find a place on the campus.
If getting “work” done was about recognition, then the five women of Delta Sigma Theta’s Pi Chapter would have given up long ago. Instead they pushed beyond systematic barriers and implicit racism to etch our names into the seams of UCLA’s fabric and history. And the legacy continues 100 years later with the women of Pi Chapter remaining the golden catalyst of change on UCLA’s campus, as well as throughout the city of Los Angeles.
When the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. came to UCLA in the 1960s, Pi Chapter was there. When California passed Proposition 14, which nullified the Rumford Fair Housing Act in 1964, the women of Pi Chapter were there to help defeat the proposition.
In the 1970s, Pi Chapter also stepped in to help raise funds for several community-based organizations that were fighting on the front lines on behalf of Black people and students, including the United Negro College Fund.
While the ’80s highlighted Pi Chapter’s political advocacy work with the founding a collective to make Martin Luther King Day a federal holiday, protesting and demanding that the University of California system divest funds from companies doing business with South Africa, and fighting along with other Black organizations to free Nelson Mandela.
And when the riots broke out in Los Angeles due to the Rodney King verdict of 1992, Pi Chapter was there. I was there, along with my 17 sisters among the first to go out and help clean up the streets of South L.A. But as the women of Pi Chapter that was just the beginning of our work for Delta on UCLA’s campus and throughout South L.A. during the 90s and 2000s.
We also tutored students in Watts, participated in canned food drives, partnered with the Los Angeles Mission, worked with Habitat for Humanity to build a house in Willowbrook, spearheaded study halls to support Black students, and hosted the “Ujamaa Program,” which highlighted and created a marketplace for Black businesses on UCLA’s campus.
So I was so proud to see the heart of my beloved Pi Chapter still beating for the well-being of the Black students on UCLA’s campus, as well as throughout our South L.A. communities. And the current members of the chapter have vigorously grabbed the baton we so graciously passed on by continuing to plant seeds of hope and change wherever there is a need.
As I write, I am overwhelmed with a flurry of feelings, pride, love and sisterhood, to say the least. The centennial celebration was filled with tears of joy and happiness as sisters who had not seen each other in years reunited. Sorority sisters met new members and stories, and memories of the decades were shared.
One highlight was having a Pi Chapter member, Florelle Cook, who was initiated into the chapter in 1951, attend. Having her in our presence brought chills as it was like having our own piece of tangible history in our midst. And we honored the moment with a chapter photograph of Cook being cascaded by Pi Chapter members, past and present, behind her.
In short, the centennial celebration of UCLA’s Delta Sigma Theta Pi Chapter was amazing, worthy of historic recognition, and a magical moment of “beautiful Black women who have returned home.”
Ta-Lori White has been a member of Delta Sigma Theta since 1992. She is currently a consultant in the insurance industry and the proud mother of Jared Robinson and Baileigh Rae Robinson, who is a member of Texas Southern University’s fall 2021 Delta Gamma Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority.