Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated
Gamma Rho Omega Chapter, Inc.
Platinum and Pearls: Celebrating 70 Years of Timeless Serves
The Gamma Rho Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated celebrated seven decades of contributions to the Jacksonville community on Saturday, August 25, 2012 at the Hyatt Regency on East Coastline Drive. More than 300 sorority members and guests gathered for a festive afternoon appropriately themed,
“Platinum and Pearls: Celebrating 70 years of Timeless Service.”
The venue’s “Terrace Room” was beautifully transformed into an opulent setting overlooking the St. John’s River where centerpieces topped with ivory roses and hints of platinum décor set the tone for a decadent lunch served “in the round” complemented by light jazz provided by Flautist Linda Witsell. A “Sisterhood Night” held Friday evening prior to the luncheon served as an informal kick-off to commemorate the chapter’s advancement of their organization’s broad, global mission:
To cultivate and encourage high scholastic and ethical standards, promote unity and friendship among college women, to study and help alleviate problems concerning girls and women in order to improve their social stature, maintain a progressive interest in college life, and to be of “Service to all mankind.”
Sorority members, internally referred to as “sorors,” complemented the spacious interior by donning an array of fashionable attire in shades of their official colors: salmon pink and apple green. Chapter members of Gamma Rho Omega, Inc. (GRO) distinguished themselves with pink, floral “Fascinators” consistent with the Queen of England’s year of Jubilee; some members opted to wear tiaras that symbolized multiple years of service.
Most proud was Gamma Rho Omega, Incorporated Chapter President Ms.Mary L. Brown. The retired Duval County School Board Educator and Administrator led the afternoon’s program in the company of her sisterly leadership seated at the dais:
Juliann M. Blackmon (70th Anniversary Luncheon Co-Chair); Willetta R. Richie (GRO Vice-President); Mrs. Prudence Williams (Chaplain); Ms. Mary L. Brown Chapter President); Dr. Norma Solomon White (25th International President & 70th Anniversary Luncheon Chair) and Mrs. Brenda R. Simmons-Hutchins, PhD (70th Anniversary Program Chair).
“We are blessed to have the foresight and wisdom of ten charter members and to have this opportunity to celebrate, reflect on our past and visioning for our future. Without their foresight and strong shoulders, we would not be the chapter we are today,” stated Brown. She further expressed her gratefulness for the presence of both members and guests and thanked them for all of the accomplishments of Gamma Rho Omega. Her greetings closed with:
“I am grateful for our presence and support in all of the accomplishments of Gamma Rho Omega and am eagerly looking forward to your continued support of the chapter’s programs and projects that will have an ongoing positive impact in the Jacksonville community. I am requesting now, that you please relax and enjoy the “Anniversary Celebration.”
Florida’s Lt. Governor Jennifer Carroll is also a sorority member and prepared a well-crafted salutation to acknowledge her pride in the impressive strides GRO has made in their varied community pursuits. Kappa Alpha Psi, Inc. fraternity member and Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown extended warm congratulations to the organization in a written endorsement:
“As a Greek, I understand the importance of fraternal bonds and the impact Greek organizations can have on individuals throughout the nation,” said Brown.
“The values our organizations instill in members benefit society as well as our brothers and sisters, and I commend you for staying true to your sorority’s lifelong bonds while providing critical resources for alumnae and undergraduates in the Jacksonville area.”
Dr. Norma Solomon White, (Doctor of Humane Letters) holds the prestigious honor of being the only GRO chapter member who has also served as South Atlantic Regional Director, the first International President (Supreme Basileus) from the state of Florida, and the First Legacy International President in the history of the sorority.
White also holds the extended distinction of being part of “Three Generations of Legacy.” She is Supreme Daughter to Ruth C. Solomon, the oldest living former GRO chapter president and an event Honorary Chair, and Supreme Grandmother to Soror Danielle Lamyse White (Gamma Theta, Hampton University 2007).
Referring to the sorority’s founders as “precious jewels,” White stated that GRO had “exceeded their expectations and that leaders and members of the chapter are to be applauded and highly recognized for supporting education, promoting leadership development, establishing, the “Emerging Young Leaders” Signature Program, addressing health issues, spotlighting the arts, awarding scholarships to deserving young ladies, focusing on social justice and human rights, economic security & global poverty, and collaborating with other organizations to make a difference in this community and the world.”
“The primary purpose of today’s occasion is to focus on awareness and let the community know that funds raised will benefit scholarships and various programs that the sorority has prided itself in offering,” said White. “This (GRO) anniversary celebration is very important to me because over 50 years, I’ve seen so much growth. We could have maintained membership at 75 which was manageable to hold meetings in our sorority house, but we’ve now expanded to more than 240 members. When I became the organization’s 25th Supreme Basileus, GRO also became a Supreme Chapter and I appreciate and remember all the support they offered. I will always stay involved to help those who need me,” she added.
White’s inspirational words were echoed by the program book endorsements of the organization’s Supreme Basileus, Carolyn House Stewart, Esquire (pictured right) and South Atlantic Regional Director, Marsha Lewis Brown.
Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated (AKA) is an international service organization founded January 15, 1908 on the campus of Howard University in Washington, D.C. It is the oldest Greek-lettered organization established by African-American college-educated women with membership that exceeds 260,000 in both graduate and undergraduate chapters in the United States, the U. S. Virgin Islands, the Caribbean, Canada, Japan, Germany, Korea and on the continent of Africa. The hallmark of the organization’s growth and overwhelming ability to advance its mission for more than 100 years is the distinguished women who serve as leaders, boast excellent academic records, proven leadership skills, and are involved in the global community through advocacy and service. Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. has dedicated itself to improving the quality of life for citizens worldwide and promoting peace.
The abiding foundation of the organization’s overwhelming ability to successfully fulfill its mission for more than 100 years is the efforts of hundreds of incorporated chapters in the Continental United States and abroad that provide financial and programmatic support.
Among the best is the Gamma Rho Omega, Incorporated chapter which was chartered in Jacksonville, Florida on June 23, 1942 by ten college-educated, enterprising, dedicated and civic-minded young women who were Alpha Kappa Alpha members on various college campuses. Also present at the 70th Anniversary luncheon was Louis Gardner (Sheffield), the chapter’s sole surviving charter member (of the original ten); she also served as an Honorary Chair.
With the transfer of additional members, the chapter grew to 17 and further expanded following the first initiation in 1945 which also marked the first annual Gamma Rho Omega, Inc. began giving scholarships.
In the impressive span of 70 years, more than $650,000 in funding has been awarded to deserving young women who aspire to pursue higher education as scholastic achievement.
Providing the means for its success remains an integral part of the chapter’s program and fundraising efforts, and according to Scholarship Committee Chair Lois Prime (pictured below), the chapter awarded more than $25,000 in financial awards in the 2011-2012 fiscal year.
With the assistance of committee members, Prime follows a measurable set of eligibility criteria which includes being a female student currently enrolled in a Duval County public school with a Grade Point Average (GPA) of 3.0. Financial need, an essay submission, community service and extracurricular activities are also assessed.
In addition, Gamma Rho Omega, Inc. awards scholarships to female students attending Jacksonville’s college and universities with established AKA Chapters. They include: Edward Waters College (Nu Iota); Jacksonville University (Omicron Delta); and The University of North Florida (Mu Theta).
The acknowledgement and award of scholastic achievement is paramount to Gamma Rho Omega, Inc. investing in a generation of women who are destined to set the same standard of excellence and distinction as the multitude of local community leaders that proudly call themselves members of Alpha Kappa Alpha, Sorority, Incorporated.
Jacksonville members of Gamma Rho Omega, Incorporated represent an impressive cross-section of professionals who excel in every field of endeavor including politics, education, business, theology, and the arts.Pictured above is Joyce Morgan-Danford, former anchor for CBS affiliate WJXT Channel 4 and Kimberly McKissick (below), First Lady of Bethel Baptist Institutional Church, Senior Sales Director for Mary Kay Cosmetics, and Founder of NJoy Ministries.
Consistent with the organization’s legacy of being “first,” the local chapter touts a litany of historical achievements worthy of applause.
A Proclamation scroll bearing the sorority crest and original signatures of President and 25th International Presidents, Ms. Mary L. Brown and Dr. Norma Solomon White respectfully, were placed in the seat of each attendee at the 70th Anniversary luncheon and chronologically listed many of the local chapter’s crowning achievements.
Highlights include breaking racial barriers by presenting operatic legend Marian Anderson before an integrated audience in 1952 to the more ambitious purchase of its first sorority house in 1965. The current sorority house, located at 1011 West 8th Street in Jacksonville, Florida, was purchased in 1976 and currently has no mortgage liability.
More than 450 young women have participated in the Debutante Coterie established in 1981 and one of the most significant transitions the local chapter will experience takes place this winter as Gamma Rho Omega, Inc. establishes “The Chocolate Nutcracker” as its signature fundraising event to replace the now defunct Ebony Fashion Fair. From 1958 to 2009, Gamma Rho Omega, Inc. sponsored the iconic fashion show which was introduced to the chapter by Mrs. Estelle McKissick. “The Chocolate Nutcracker” is a multicultural production patented by LaVerne Reed Productions and has experienced national success in other major cities including Atlanta, Miami, Orlando, and Tampa.
Program Chair Johnnetta Moore has solicited the artistic expertise of Jacksonville Centre of the Arts Executive Director, Kezia Hendrix-Rolle to both produce, cast, and choreograph. Moore distributed “Save the Date” placards and magnets at the luncheon’s place settings and eloquently addressed the audience with an encouragement to attend.
Two performances will be held on December 29, 2012 event for a 2:00 p.m. matinee performance or 7:30 p.m. evening performance at the Times-Union Performing Arts Center.
Ticket prices range from $20 to $60, and all proceeds support awarding scholarships to Duval County students and other chapter community projects.
If the legacy of being “first” sets a precedence for the AKA tradition, originality is an apt suit to follow. According to 70th Anniversary Chair Dr. Brenda Simmons-Hutchins (pictured below),
“The luncheon program committee was given a charge to come up with something different to commemorate our decades of service,” said Simmons-Hutchins.
A decision was made to forgo the traditional keynote speaker and do something really special!”
Juliann M. Blackmon, 70th Anniversary Luncheon Chair, stepped to the plate and wrote an original skit that mimicked a mock courtroom trial complete with Blackmon herself serving as the “Sagacious Judge” clothed in a color-block, pink & green robe accompanied by a pink gavel. Appropriately, Court Docket # 0070 represented the anniversary’s theme while the plaintiffs and defendants were Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. & Gamma Rho Omega Chapter, Inc. vs. Jacksonville, Florida Community-at-Large (played by Benny Moore).
“The Trial of the Century” sought to determine if the organization and affiliated local chapter was accused of outstanding and continuous “service to all mankind,” would there be enough evidence to convict them? Presided over by Simmons-Hutchins, a dramatic outplay ensued and was riddled with both humor and historical fact.
Sorority members served as narrator, witnesses, bailiff, clerks, jurors, with integrated artistic performances in song and dance by Vocalist Karen Hodge (Divine Litigant), Dancer Adrianne Ansley (Executioner/Witness), and the “ The Compassionate Response” in song by Douglas Anderson School of the Arts student, Benjamin Coy Simmons, III, grandson of Simmons-Hutchins. “The Grateful Adjournment” was offered by The Gamma Rho Omega Chorus under the Direction of Mrs. Barbara McNealy Bouie.
Guilty as Charged, the Gamma Rho Omega Chapter, Inc. of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated has accumulated more than enough evidence to convict them of a lifetime sentence of both
“Service to all Mankind” & “Global Leadership through Timeless Service.”
Whether donating funds to the Martin L. King, Jr. memorial (2000) or the most recent implementation of the Emerging Young Leaders Program for middle school girls (2010), the Jacksonville chapter continues to soar with consistency and surpass previous heights. As the celebration winded down, members fellow-shipped and embraced a new-found energy that inspired them to move forward. In closing, Dr. Norma Solomon White poignantly stated:
“The best is yet to come!
Penny Dickerson 2012