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Baltimore City

‘Get ready, Baltimore’: Nation’s oldest Black sorority holds regional conference at Convention Center this week

Karenthia A. Barber has fond memories of her sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha, which she credits with playing a “significant role” in her life — both personally and professionally.

The Lakeside-based consultant, strategist and speaker remembers being a 16-year-old freshman at the University of Pittsburgh, and having her neighbor, a member of the sorority, invite her over when fellow sorority sisters visited.

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“I observed firsthand not only the close sisterhood and commitment to scholarship and service; but the style, grace and confidence, and impeccable reputation that was displayed by this group of women,” recalled the 40-year-old CEO of the consulting firm, Professional Development Associates LLC, who ultimately joined the sorority. “I knew I wanted to be aligned with this strong and influential group of women because their values and commitment aligned with mine.”

Expect to see plenty of pink and green — the organization’s official colors — ensembles adorned with pearls this week in Baltimore as thousands of members of the nation’s oldest Black sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc., attend its 91st North Atlantic regional conference.

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With 986 undergraduate and graduate chapters in 50 states and internationally, the organization boasts 265,000 members. This week, more than 5,000 members stretching from Maine to Washington, D.C., will gather for various workshops and networking opportunities from Thursday to Sunday at the Baltimore Convention Center.

Founded at Howard University in 1908, the sorority touts such members as Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou, Rosa Parks, Coretta Scott King and U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris.

Alpha Kappa Alpha is one of the country’s nine Black sororities and fraternities, known as the Divine Nine, which are recognized by the National Pan-Hellenic Council, an umbrella council group composed of the historically Black fraternities and sororities.

These groups offer a unique bond in Black America and its members are often responsible for some of the most significant advances in the country, according to Dr. Edwin Johnson, special assistant to the provost at Morgan State University and a member of Omega Psi Phi fraternity.

“When the Black community needs to come together, oftentimes behind the scenes you have members who are making those connections,” he explained, listing famous Black leaders who have been members of Black fraternities and sororities such as Martin Luther King Jr., Jesse Jackson and A. Phillip Randolph.

“The evidence of the leadership is irrefutable when you are looking at the movers and shakers in the African American community,” Johnson said. “You don’t have to look any further than our current vice president. For most members it starts at undergrad and takes off from there.”

He added: “There is much more hands-on engagement with African American communities. It’s more than just writing checks. You are doing mentoring, college tours.”

Johnson stressed that members of these organizations often participate well into their professional careers.

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“This is a lifetime commitment,” Johnson said. “You now have to realize that when you step out in public, you are representing that organization, its principles and founders.”

Barber said many of her closest friends are members of the sorority.

“Our sisterly bond transcends geography and we celebrate and support one another through life’s challenges and milestones,” she said. “Being an AKA means I have sisters everywhere I go. Professionally, there have been business opportunities and support from my Alpha Kappa Alpha sisters. ‘We help each other’ is not merely a motto. It is a reality of our sisterhood.”

One of Barber’s friends, former Baltimore City Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, also plans to attend the regional conference. In fact, she will lead a rituals workshop, which gives an overview of the organization’s traditions, at the conference.

“At a time when the impact of African American women in our country is reaching new heights, this conference takes on new significance. I relish the opportunity to host the region’s members of Alpha Kappa Alpha,” said Rawlings-Blake, who became a member in 1997 as part of Baltimore’s Epsilon Omega Graduate Chapter.

“I have been humbled and grateful to be an AKA for 25 years,” said Rawlings-Blake. “Personally, I have been inspired and strengthened. Professionally I have been stretched. We are a collection of some of the finest women in the world.”

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Having the sorority’s regional convention in Baltimore allows the city to showcase its vast offerings from cultural monuments to entertainment, said Al Hutchinson, the president and CEO of Visit Baltimore, the city’s official destination sales and marketing organization.

“I am personally honored that AKA has selected Baltimore as the host city for its annual Mid-Atlantic regional conference and I hope they have a phenomenal experience exploring our city’s rich Black history and culture,” he said.

“Across the city,” he added, “creative leaders are putting their talents into exciting new eateries, stunning event spaces and world-class arts destinations for both locals and folks traveling into Baltimore to enjoy.

“Baltimore is a destination that celebrates Black excellence — from our incredible Black-owned restaurants and retail establishments to our arts scene and cultural attractions like the Reginald F. Lewis Museum and the Great Blacks and Wax Museum.”

Barber said she is excited to show off Baltimore to conference attendees.

“I look forward to welcoming my sisters to my Baltimore,” she said. “Our regional conference is like a pink-and-green family reunion, filled with a lot of work, educational sessions and sisterly fellowship. Get ready, Baltimore.”

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In Baltimore for the AKA regional conference? Here’s some places to go.


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