AKA’s 50th anniversary in Tucson
by Danielle Sottosanti, Arizona Daily Star
Fifty years ago, a small group of Tucson women started a local graduate chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc., AKA, the country’s oldest Greek-letter organization established by black, college-trained women.
“A local chapter meant there were many programs and services that we could do down here in Tucson that we would be recognized for. We didn’t have to travel to Phoenix to do what Phoenix wanted to do, but do our own here,” said Anna Jolivet, a charter member of the local chapter.
Laura Banks-Reed founded the sorority’s Eta Epsilon Omega Chapter in December 1958, after she and Effie Edwards rounded up enough Alpha Kappa Alpha sisters who were living in the Tucson area. Eta Epsilon Omega became Tucson’s first graduate chapter of the sorority.
Although Alpha Kappa Alpha is the country’s oldest sorority established by black women, it is open to all races. In 1949, the sorority, which began at Washington, D.C.’s, Howard University in 1908, inducted Eleanor Roosevelt as an honorary member. Locally, many Eta Epsilon Omega Chapter members are prominent in Tucson’s history. There’s Jolivet, who was the first black female principal in what is now the Tucson Unified School District.
Banks Elementary School, 3200 S. Lead Flower Ave., is named after Banks-Reed, a former TUSD educator who worked for the district for 39 years. She now lives in Texas but will return to Tucson this week for Eta Epsilon Omega Chapter’s 50th anniversary celebration.On Friday, chapter members from throughout the years will gather at the University of Arizona Student Union Memorial Center’s ballroom, 1303 E. University Blvd., for the celebration. The event, which starts at 6 p.m., is open to the public and is $50 a ticket.
Like other Alpha Kappa Alpha chapters, Eta Epsilon Omega does community outreach. The chapter’s signature program is the Ivy AKAdemy.”It’s a program for girls 10 to 16 based on social preparation, social responsibility and academic preparation,” said Tanisha Price-Johnson, chapter president. The program includes workshops on community service, resumé writing, dining and etiquette and other topics.
Chapter member Undra Graves-Guyton’s oldest daughter — Undreya Hugger, 13 — has been in the program for two years. Graves-Guyton said she notices the program’s effect.”We go out to dinner often, but I can tell the difference from what she learned in the workshop and the interaction with her and her friends,” she said.
There are 21 Eta Epsilon Omega Chapter members today. Many members, both longtime sisters and new ones, spoke of the sorority’s impact on their lives. “YWCA Tucson and AKA were the two organizations that really set me on the course of wanting to improve the lives around me,” said Banks-Reed, who was Eta Epsilon Omega Chapter’s first president. She was also a community activist.
Sahuarita resident Brandi Davis said joining the sorority gave her a sense of sisterhood, which she had not experienced growing up with five brothers. “I didn’t know what sisterhood was because I had never had a sister,” she said. She joined the sorority at a Louisiana university in 2005 with 34 other women. “Now I have 34 sisters,” she said.