Becoming an AKA In Michael Brown’s America
By Nicole Anderson Cobb, PhD
It has been six days since my initiation into the Epsilon Epsilon Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Incorporated…and it is STILL surreal…
…Surreal because I was never quite sure that it would really happen…it had been a 25-year wait for membership after all…
…Surreal because as an only child, it has been a PROFOUND experience to open up my life to a diverse community of talented, ambitious, successful, passionate women locally, statewide, nationally and internationally…
…Surreal because of all of the juggling of schedules, obligations, finances, personalities, challenges and my own internal fortitude required to get it done…
And, yet, to become a member of this beloved sorority at a time when Black life is YET AGAIN under siege was indeed sobering.
Tuesday morning---November 25, 2014--- was the day after the announcement of Ferguson grand jury decision and a night of enraged responses in that community….but I was still reveling in the afterglow of my initiation into Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated not even 48 hours before.
So, on Tuesday morning--- as I was still unpacking pink-and-green gifts with faint strands of sorority songs floating through my head--- I receive an email from a soror:
“Sorors...rally...noon...I will be there...courthouse...
Will you/can you join me?”
Now, after running the gauntlet of work-marriage-parenting-community obligations-worship-sorority initiation for much of fall 2014, all I wanted to do was stay snuggled up in my house on that bitterly cold November afternoon sho-nuff “chillaxing” (that’s chilling + relaxing) and delighting in pink and green goodies.
But there was something about my soror’s request… her plea, that moved me… and reinforced what the process of joining the sorority was indeed about: standing with your sister(s) for something bigger than yourself…and moving beyond yourself in order to tend to the suffering of others.
So as I watched Ferguson seethe from deep ache, rage and age-old injustice, I heard the sorority’s “commitment to high ethical standards” ring out in my consciousness and got convicted to go to the rally.
As I caught a glimpse of the mother of Michael Brown tear-stained face and remembered the sorority’s commitment to “the alleviation of the suffering of women and girls”, I got convicted to go to the rally.
And when I thought of 12-year-old Tamir Rice shot and killed on a playground by police in Cleveland, I was reminded of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority’s 2014-2018 initiative to foster safe and inviting playgrounds across America with the AKA 1908 Playground Project, I got convicted to go to the rally.
Thus, I grabbed my hat and jacket and made my way to the courthouse to stand with my soror and many others from campus and community gathered together to process their frustration and grief regarding the Ferguson grand jury decision.
Yet, one of the most profound moments came from a local minister led us in the 4 1/2 minutes of silent reflection symbolizing the 4 ½ HOURS that Michael Brown lay dying alone, yet surrounded, on that Ferguson street.
As I closed my eyes in those silent moments, all I could hear is a wave of sniffling surround me. As I struggled to quell my own emotions, I realized just how long 4 ½ minutes---much less 4 ½ hours--- of despair could be.
It was in those silent moments though that one of my constant companions reared up in me and reminded me:
---Hurling insults at one another will not change this American nightmare.
---New fancy, shiny programs will not change this American nightmare.
---Hollow presidential rebukes reminding us “that American is a nation of laws” will not change this American nightmare.
…BECAUSE IT IS STILL ABOUT THE GUNS…
…And the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri is YET ANOTHER CHILLING REMINDER OF THE ENRAGED, ARMED AMERICAN MASCULINITY STALKING US ALL .
So for President Obama (who has been deeply entrenched in two wars and varied military campaigns for the breadth of his two terms) to dare to remind us that “violence is never the answer” is deeply troubling at best.
Gun violence has become one of the primary modes of conflict resolution by American men (at home and abroad). Therefore, as long as citizens allow this, we Americans will continue to kill and die…and kill and die… and kill and die at the hands of law enforcement, fellow civilians and the American military.
We, Americans, have convinced ourselves that guns help us to order ourselves, manage ourselves and even GOVERN ourselves as gun possession is legal in all 50 states.
Yet, we live (and die) in this country steeped in a domestic terrorism that allows us to KILL FIRST and ask questions later.
We value and promote the widespread availability of guns and make sure that they are available via legal and illegal means. And yet, black men, women and children are being killed publically for possessing toy guns…or possessing no guns at all… or killed just for inhabiting a Black body that must be destroyed.
Thus, to become a woman of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority in post-Michael Brown, gun-addicted America is to alternate your “Skee-Wee” for “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot!” and “Black Lives Matter!”
As AKAs of the 21st century, we must be prepared to enter into this struggle to aid African American communities TRAPPED in the straitjacket of gun violence that we inflict on ourselves… and gun violence that is being inflicted on us by others in the broader society.
To this end, I was encouraged to read our International President’s press release issued on the day of the Ferguson grand jury decision where President Buckhanan-Wilson characterized the decision as “a miscarriage of justice” that sends the wrong message to the black community and continues to underwrite the deep and long held disconnect between the African American community and law enforcement.”
To read the full statement, see:
Ironically, earlier this week, I was skimming a history book about the sorority, I came across one line that leapt out at me in ways that I had not considered before. The phrase was:
“…Ethel Hedgeman Lyle, a St. Louis native…”
Ethel Hedgeman Lyle, the visionary who founded Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated did indeed hail from St. Louis, Missouri!
Thus, the connection between Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority and St. Louis had again come full circle for me. Given the fact that Alpha Kappa Alpha’s founder was a daughter of St. Louis, it is only right that we members of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated keep our eyes focused on Ferguson, Missouri (and communities like Ferguson all over the nation).
Ethel Hedgeman Lyle establish a sorority 106 years ago for the sake of protecting and advancing Black life and serving all mankind reminds. Therefore, HER DESIRE and OUR WORK racial uplift, the alleviation of suffering and service to all mankind MUST CONTINUE in Michael Brown’s America--- for all our sakes.
Nicole Anderson Cobb, PhD, is currently an adjunct lecturer for the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign Department of African American Studies.
She is also the author of TANGLED, an award-winning play that examines gun violence in Chicago: http://www.lulu.com/us/en/shop/nicole-anderson-cobb-phd/tangled-a-dramedy-about-gun-violence-in-the-age-of-obama/paperback/product-20930899.html
Finally, she is also the convening playwright of The GunPlay(s) Competition 2013-2014, a competition focused on plays that examine gun violence in American life. For more information: http://www.samaritanroadproductions.com/contact-nicole-anderson-cobb-phd-at-samaritan-road-productions.htm