It’s All Greek to Me

Writer: Kendrick Porter; Editor: Kadeem Pilgrim

The Divine Nine! Where does one even start when discussing something as controversial, yet historically significant, as the black Greek community?

It’s an experience that is had by many, and yet missed by even more. 

Moreover, the black Greek experience is one that is synonymous with the HBCU (Historically Black College/University) experience. 

In order to shed light on the true purpose of the Divine Nine, it’s important to first share the reason behind its existence.  

The D9, known officially as the National Pan-Hellenic Council, is a product of the work that black students of the early 1900s put in in an effort to create spaces for themselves to incite true change on their college campuses and in their communities. 

The founders of Alpha Phi Alpha, Alpha Kappa Alpha, Kappa Alpha Psi, Omega Psi Phi, Delta Sigma Theta, Phi Beta Sigma, Zeta Phi Beta, Sigma Gamma Rho, and Iota Phi Theta built their respective organizations on a series of principles that focused on education, community service, and civil rights. 

The men and women of these organizations marched in solidarity for women's rights,  stood in protest of racism at the height of Jim Crow’s reign on the US, and they preached the value of brotherhood and sisterhood to their peers.   

Today, these organizations continue to produce some of the world’s most impressive Black creators, philanthropists, and leaders, many of which attended HBCUs. 

For those who choose to pledge, the NPHC can play a major role in their collegiate experience. The decision to become an initiate of any of the D9 black greek fraternities and sororities in existence can dictate what extracurricular activities a student chooses to participate in, the classes they choose to take, and in some cases even the people they choose to associate themselves with. 

While it may sound extreme for those of us that haven’t pledged, those who are granted the opportunity to cross over, or cross the burning sands, are in agreeance with the fact that their letters came with sacrifice, as well as strategy.

And for a number of those selected each year to work toward garnering their Greek letters, those sacrifices can be mental, physical, and in some cases dangerous

The term “hazing” is one that you’ll often hear on the campuses of HBCUs and PWIs alike, and more often than not it’s being used by members of Greek organizations refuting the idea that their chapter would ever engage in the deleterious act.  

Cases of hazing within the NPHC, although low in number, are still more likely to make headline news in contrast to white Greek organizations. That’s an entirely different conversation in and of itself.  However, at least one US school, club, or organization has reported a death due to hazing every year since 1959. 

In 2017, the film “Burning Sands”, written and directed by a member of Omega Psi Phi, depicted the “hell week” experience for a group of black college students aiming to cross the (you guessed it) burning sands of a Que Psi Phi-inspired greek organization.  

Since its premiere, the film has received criticism, specifically from the black Greek community, for its misrepresentation of the pledge process. And while I myself am not Greek, I believe this conversation is too complex not to be approached from all angles.

Why isn’t all of the good that the NPHC does ever highlighted? It seems as though the black Greek storyline is only palatable when the focus is on putting on a good show or beating ourselves senseless.

School Daze, Stomp the Yard, Drumline- our stories only seem worthy of being told if we’re performing or being abused.

Today, the members of the Divine 9 continue to reinforce the fact that while the pledge process is not physically or mentally taxing, it is designed to build character and community among prospective members. 

And while films like Burning Sands tell a different story, these organizations continue to operate without fail. Moreover, member organizations of the NPHC receive hundreds, if not thousands, of applications from prospective members on an annual basis.  

Ultimately, no one but the men and women who actively engage in the pledge process and join these organizations can speak on what it entails (good luck getting any information out of them if you dare try). 

And until you experience the pledge process for yourself, consider the stories you hear make-believe.