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Divine Nine organizations provide lifelong community for Black students at UNC

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Zack Hawkins, the director of development for UNC Student Affairs, provides welcoming remarks to the dozens of people gathered in celebration of the opening of the NPHC Legacy Plaza on UNC's campus. The plaza represents the University's nine historically Black fraternities and sororities for their contributions to the campus community.

When UNC senior Hala Ballard joined her sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., she said she made a lifetime commitment.

Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. is one of the "Divine Nine" sororities and fraternities — historically Black Greek life organizations in the National Pan-Hellenic Council. There are seven chapters represented on UNC's campus, with six of them currently active.

Ballard, the treasurer of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority's Theta Pi chapter at UNC, said her aunts who were a part of the organization inspired her to join in spring 2022 because of how active they were in their sorority community — even after graduating.

“I realized that we had a chapter on campus, so I thought it’d be the perfect opportunity to create my own legacy and also follow in the footsteps of some of my aunties as well,” Ballard said. 

Each organization on campus has their own core values and initiatives, but they come together to work collectively toward common goals, such as a recent voter registration driveEvan Andrews, the vice president of UNC NPHC, said.

“As long as UNC has had a relatively stable Black population, we’ve had these organizations," Andrews said. "They served a critical role in our communities, of being heralds and stewards of how we conduct business and how we operate. Historically, that’s been our value.” 

Andrews is currently the liaison for a film project by N.C. Central University student Cameron Elyse that documents and exemplifies the work of Divine Nine organizations on campuses throughout North Carolina, which will highlight the importance the organizations have to the collegiate and professional community, he said over text.

At historically Black colleges and universities, the Divine Nine have their own plots, or dedicated land on campus that honors each chapter. Ballard said that at historically black colleges and universities, members paint their organization's colors and highlight their charter and founding date on their campus. It is also a place to celebrate big occasions, such as homecoming and respective founders' days. 

UNC's equivalent is the Legacy Plaza, located on South Campus  in the Student and Academic Services Building courtyard. Ballard said the plaza is an amazing and unexpected sight at a predominantly white institution and the NPHC hopes to make more use of it in the future. 

“It really is just space for us to cement our place and purpose on this campus. It's a place that we value,” Andrews said. “Oftentimes, when you’re brought fresh to your organization, that is the place you can get a picture and a place to cement your legacy as you’ve chosen to continue with a new chapter during your time here at UNC.”

Andrews said alumni play a critical role in how the organizations operate by providing networking opportunities, guidance and advice

As an alumni of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc., Bernard Bell, the executive director of UNC’s Shuford Program in Entrepreneurship, said he always tries to provide job opportunities for Divine Nine students. 

When he graduated from college, Bell said that he got his first job at IBM because one of the employees was a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. He said he gained many opportunities throughout his life by meeting other Divine Nine members. 

“You never know how much impact one person can have," Bernard said.  "If one person can impact 10 other young brothers coming behind them, and each one of them impacts 10 and so forth and so on, I think that’s how change occurs. And it’s something I take very, very seriously.” 

Bell said that when he attended UNC in the '80s, Black fraternity and sorority life was the glue that kept Black students together. 

“It was the civic piece, it was the social piece, it was the area where we could come together and feel like we had an oasis within this predominantly white institution,” he said.

Ballard said being a part of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority allowed her to build a community of other Black women with similar cultural backgrounds. She said it has been difficult to pursue leadership positions at a predominantly white institution, but Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority gave her the confidence and opportunity to do so.

“Our main purpose here is to fulfill our responsibilities, fulfill our duties and pay our respect to our organizations," Ballard said.

@madisongagnon9

@dthlifestyle | lifestyle@dailytarheel.com

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