We recently sat down with Barnett to learn what she’s loved the most over the past five decades, what she’s looking forward to next and words of wisdom for the next generation of sorority members coming after her.
Barnett: I was initiated in 1967 in Alpha Lambda chapter in Toledo, Ohio, an undergraduate city chapter that takes in ladies from the University of Toledo, Bowling Green State University (BGSU) and University of Findlay (in Findlay, Ohio).
Why did you want to join?
Barnett: I know the appropriate answer to give about why I wanted to join Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority is that I wished to be of service to my community. But thinking back 52 years ago, I do not know if that was truly my inspiration.
I know my college campus was predominantly white. My freshman year, roommates (six very nice girls) were all white and we had much to talk about because we all were from different cities. Sorority membership was frequently a topic of discussion, because Sorority life had a very strong presence on the Bowling Green campus. All of the major sororities had university-sponsored houses on campus and frequently Greek-sponsored extracurricular activities. The only two off-campus, university-sponsored sorority and fraternity organizations were historically black — Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. and Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. (note: this was the middle 1960s and even in Ohio, the black organizations were kept off-campus. Amazing isn't it?)
On Bowling Green's campus, there were probably 150 to 200 black students and there was clearly awareness of the Divine 9 [editor’s note: the nine historically black sororities and fraternities]. Most of us all hung out together and expressed interest in joining one of these prominent organizations. Bowling Green, Ohio is a small college town, not too far from Toledo, so the city chapters at the University of Toledo began to recruit from the black cohort at BGSU. My Ivy line of nine was the first at BGSU to be initiated into the Alpha Lambda chapter in Toledo, but we were certainly not the last.
Finally, I was also aware of sorority and fraternity life because my parents were members — my mom part of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. and my dad part of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc. My mother never said anything to me about joining Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. but I was certainly aware of her and her friends' membership, as they remained good friends throughout their adult years. They had all been members at Theta chapter at Ohio State University.
What’s the best part of being in Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.?
Barnett: It serves as a buffer to the everyday world. This is not a color-blind society we live in; we are people of color. If we are to be successful, we must adapt to this world by being multicultural, making adjustments to dominantly Anglo way. As W.E.B. DuBois so aptly noted many decades ago, there is a color line that prevails in this country that even today still divides us politically, economically, and socially. Fortunately for many African-Americans, we have learned to straddle the line, walk and work in this world. Hanging out with my sorority sisters allows me to be with others who are just like me. As Mona Lake Jones says, it is wonderful being "in a room full sisters, like jewels in a crown, vanilla, cinnamon and dark chocolate brown." The vibrancy is amazing.
What has been your favorite sorority service project so far?
Barnett: We've had many voter registration drives. I enjoy going to the high schools and community colleges and getting the young people to register. Also, every time we search for young people to be recipients of our scholarships, I am moved by their gratitude and find that very rewarding. I like to feel that in some small way we have helped someone light their light, and begin their journey.
Who has been an inspirational sorority sister for you?
Barnett: My mother, of course, as mentioned above. Also, I am so inspired by the past international presidents. They are amazing in their innovative ideas, direction and leadership. Two in particular are the late Mary Shy Scott and Eva Evans. Both were very down-to-earth in their approach to leading the sorority and in providing sustainable service to the community. They were politically astute and feminists with style and grace.
What advice would you have to any new sorority members?
Barnett: My advice is always to treat the sorority as an investment. Make continuous contributions, because Alpha Kappa Alpha pays a hefty dividend. The social capital accumulated is invaluable and allows for continuous growth and development of self and community.
What is your hope for the sorority’s perpetuity?
Barnett: That it will continue in being of service to all mankind, and specifically help alleviate the despair and incivility that we are witnessing in our society at large. I particularly hope we can eliminate the violence and hazing in our own organization. I also hope the sorority will play an active role to bring resolve to the racial and gender injustices that continue to prevail. Finally, I hope that the goodness of actions and beauty of spirit of our sisterhood are a reflection of each individual sorority member.
Editor’s note: Responses have been immaterially edited and condensed for reader’s ease.
Thank you, sister Cynthia, for sharing your insightful thoughts and here’s to another 50 years!
This article was submitted by Amber Wilson, PR Committee member