Standing in a crowd with a couple hundred of her Delta Sigma Theta sisters, Ruth Travis watched as a flotilla escorted the sorority's torch to the Inner Harbor Friday for a centennial celebration to honor the women's service to Maryland and the world.
From their first march on Washington during women's suffrage in 1913 to their ongoing Park Heights mentoring sessions, the women engage in service activities centered on economic empowerment, education, international involvement, political awareness and physical and mental health.
Travis, a retired schoolteacher and pastor at Ebenezer A.M.E. Church, said the Deltas have left their mark on Baltimore and beyond.
"It's just an honor to be a Delta," said Travis, dressed in a white linen jumpsuit with a red silk flower pinned by her heart, a tribute to the sorority’s signature red and white.
"There are Deltas all over the world and the sisterhood is so strong. We are all in facets of life: doctors, lawyers, teachers, pastors -- you name it, we're in it."
In the Baltimore region, the sorority invites girls and boys monthly to the chapter headquarters to teach them study skills, expose them to possible career paths and mentor them. Members take the youths on college tours, serve food to the elderly, sponsor Girl Scout troops and host financial management workshops.
The women also participate in political advocacy with "Delta Days" at City Hall and the State House, where they lobbied for stronger school attendance laws.
College-educated women are invited to join the historically black sorority that was founded by 22 women at Howard University. One of the co-founders was Vashti Turley Murphy, who lived in Baltimore with her husband, Carl, a longtime publisher of the Afro-American newspaper.
More than 250,000 women belong to the sorority in 900 chapters throughout the U.S. and overseas in places such as England, Japan and Germany. More than 3,000 members are in Maryland.
After its arrival by boat, the torch was paraded down a red carpet leading to a dais outside the Baltimore Visitor Center. It was ceremoniously lit on stage, where dignitaries were seated, including Gov. Martin O'Malley, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and NAACP President Benjamin Jealous.
The torch is finishing a 22-stop national tour with visits to the hometowns of the organization's leaders. Baltimore is home to Thelma T. Daley, the 16th national president of Delta Sigma Theta from 1975 to 1979.
Daley said the torch will light the way for the sorority's next 100 years.
"It is a light that represents Delta commitment to integrity, high morals and its active interest in the welfare of the community and our country," Daley said. "It is a symbol that embodies love, peace, pursuit of happiness, hope, faith and positive regard for all."
Following the event, the sisters went to Morgan State University, where they met with students to award $16,000 in scholarships and promote careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
The sorority will be in Annapolis on Saturday, beginning with a 9:30 a.m. rally at the Kunta Kinte memorial at 1 Dock Street. Other festivities will follow..
The torch tour ends in Washington Thursday at the kickoff of the organization’s national convention.