Denver Delta Sigma Theta Alumnae 80th Anniversary Power of Red Presents Decades of Scholarship and Style
Adams, Maxwell, King, McCloud, Noel, Robinson, Webb, Flanigan, and Biffle; these names are affixed to buildings throughout the city, posted in memorandum, and recorded in the annals of Denver’s beloved schools. They are the familiar names of pioneers, leaders and influencers who have touched countless lives in the community. They belong to women who have contributed to a legacy of excellence, championing improvements that have been embedded in our collective consciousness. What do these women have in common? They represent several generations of members of Delta Sigma Theta, Inc., a sorority dedicated to public service and programs targeting the African American community.
Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. was founded in 1913 by a group of esteemed Black women at Howard University. The organization, steeped in sisterhood and intent on improving the community, was created at a difficult time in United States history. The Reconstruction Era had run its unsuccessful course, and with few rights and no political power, Jim Crow laws ruled the day and plunged the African American community into poverty and hopelessness. Denver experienced a rise in Ku Klux Klan marches and rallies in the 1920s, yet the national founders of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. showed fortitude and purpose, branching out across the country to bring hope to disenfranchised communities.
In 1939, two of the charter members, Mae Adams, a graduate of West Virginia State University and Ohio State University, and Jessie Whaley Maxwell, a graduate of Bishop College, met with Elaine Brown Jenkins over coffee. They discussed the city’s new chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., and determined that there was a need for a Delta Sigma Theta chapter. On Saturday, February 18, 1939, Beta Phi Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority was established in Denver by the Grand Chapter Secretary with the following members: Mae Thomas Adams, Elaine Brown Jenkins, Jessie Whaley Maxwell, and Neophytes Kathryn Cohron, Eleanor Critz, Ruby Cohron Wright, Claudine McCloud and Marian Morrison Robinson Bailey. The current president is Michelle Simmons. It is fitting that these resilient women are recognized during the month of May, when mothers everywhere are celebrated for their service and sacrifice.
In existence for more than 100 years, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. gives women around the world opportunities to work together in the name of scholarship, public service, and sisterhood. Service and excellence are in the DNA of Delta Sigma Theta sisters, and membership thrives as women are drawn to the organization’s reputation for academic and community advancement. On May 19, the Denver Alumnae Chapter will host a fashion show, scholarship award ceremony, and 80-year celebration at the “Power of Red” luncheon, showcasing “Decades of Scholarship and Style.”
Djuana Harvell, chair of the 80th anniversary celebration, received her first introduction to Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., at a cotillion event in Miami, Florida, where she received a scholarship. “I attended Clark Atlanta University, where the Deltas were very active on campus. I continued to be exposed to women in leadership roles who were committed to service, and it just inspired me to be better, to do better.” Harvell remembers learning about affiliations with the sorority through members of her family. She participated in activities on campus to learn more about the Deltas before deciding to become a member, “I became interested in the mission, which is an organization of college educated women committed to the development of its members, as well as committed to public service, primarily to the African American community.” After graduating from Clark Atlanta University, Harvell pursued a PhD in Nebraska before moving to Denver and becoming a member of the Denver Alumnae Chapter, where she served as chapter president from 2012 to 2016.
Many of the women in the Denver Alumnae Chapter migrated to Colorado from other states and found a welcoming environment that advocated sisterhood. This closeness began as a necessity during several racially oppressive time periods, and continues as a benefit of membership. The earliest members of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. were women who attended barely integrated colleges, and there was limited availability of African American sororities and fraternities, making membership all the more special.
Linda Bates Leali, former principal of Denver’s historic Manual High School, became the youngest Denver Alumnae Chapter president at age 27. Her chosen field was education, but she was familiar with the sorority from her upbringing in Paris, Texas. Leali’s mother, a Delta, brought her along to homecoming at her alma mater, Wiley College, introducing her to a legacy of excellence from an early age. “She would show me some of the objects and the activities. She wouldn’t talk a whole lot about it, but I was just inspired to become a Delta because she was a Delta and I was comfortable around the Deltas there at Wiley College,” she recalls.
Leali attended the University of North Texas in Denton, Texas, where integration was making a slow start and there were no African American fraternities or sororities. In 1967, she moved with her family to Denver, and enrolled in the University of Colorado at Boulder. At the time, most Delta Sigma Theta Sorority activities occurred in Denver in a mixed collegiate alumna chapter, but that didn’t deter Leali, who jumped at the opportunity to get involved. “I was inspired because I knew it was a historically predominantly Black sorority. I had heard of the others. But to me there was nothing other than Delta, because my mother was a Delta,” says Leali, who commuted between the cities while pledging in 1968.Then in May of 1969, Leali was joined by Ida Seymour Daniel, Dorothy King-Stockton, Constance Brown and Patricia Hoffman Westerman as collegiate members added to the 16 new Initiates of the newly chartered Zeta Pi City-Wide chapter their 50th year this May.
Denver’s 80-year old chapter has sustained its service-based efforts by following the sorority’s 5-Point programmatic thrust, with attention to 1) economic development, 2) educational development, 3) international awareness and involvement, 4) physical and mental health, and 5) political awareness and involvement.
Dorothy King-Stockton, an original Beta Phi line sister, was drawn to the community oriented organization because it would allow her to get involved in the city of Denver as well as on the University of Colorado’s Boulder campus. “It was a time when the Black Power movement was so strong,” says King-Stockton, who felt that the sorority was aligned with her purpose, “I was president of the Youth NAACP at home, and co-director of the Educational Opportunity Program on campus.”
The former Beta Phi mixed chapter was re-chartered in 1969 as the Denver Alumnae (for graduates) and Zeta Pi Chapters (for collegiates), and it continued offering opportunities for Black women to network and find ways to make a difference in the community. Of note is the mother of King-Stockton, Dorothy King, Sr., who established Personal Services, Inc., an ironing center in the City Park West neighborhood that provided employment for women. Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. sponsored a clothing bank near the center, which offered professional wardrobes for those entering the job market in conjunction with King Sr.’s work. The project gained national recognition and an award during the Carter administration.
Throughout the 1970s, the chapter continued to grow and meetings moved from members’ homes to Liggins Towers in Park Hill. In August 1977, Denver Deltas hosted more than 5,000 Deltas and their families at the 34th National Convention of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., with support from local businesses and city officials. The event’s signature gala was held at the Denver Merchandise Mart and Delta member and recording artist, the late great Natalie Cole, was the headlining entertainment.
In 1988, the Honorable Wilma J. Webb, Denver’s former First Lady, became an honorary Delta member on the organization’s 75th anniversary. “Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., best defined itself and its history and actions on dignity, humaneness, and laughter, most consistently with the values and standards for which I believed in and have lived throughout my life.” Webb praises the organization, saying, “I owe a lifetime debt of gratitude to all the members of our sisterhood, past, present, and future, for the influence Delta has had on me. I am especially thankful to Sorors Rosalie Martin and Frances Jefferson, both deceased, and Margaret King, who all three of them considered me to be worthy of their adoption into our sorority.”
Another very active Delta member is retired politician and political figure the Honorable Gloria Tanner. In 1994 she became the first African American woman to serve as a Colorado state senator. In 2000 she founded a leadership and training institute for black women in Colorado. She was inducted into the Colorado Women's Hall of Fame in 2002.
Over time, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. has continued to build bridges between the community and practical resources. Their premiere events are known for spotlighting the beauty and brilliance of members and their families, with galas and cotillions that allow attendees to dress up and celebrate the opportunity to raise funds for scholars and academic leaders.
Harvell and others have remained active in Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., due to the hardened commitment to public service; a commitment that has taken precedence over more frivolous social activities over the last century. From 1971 to 1975, the sorority’s national president, Lillian Benbow, proposed, “Let’s stop the dance,” prompting members to take community service seriously and inspiring women like Leali to prioritize the purpose of membership. “It’s not just a social thing for us,” says Leali, “We socialize; we fellowship; but that is not our primary purpose. Our purpose is to serve.” She points out that collective action helps Deltas make significant accomplishments.
Delta women recognize the need that exists in communities across the country, and know that there is still much to be done. They see their role as community leaders as active and relevant. “It was hard to separate responsibilities as a student, a worker, and a Delta; but the times lent themselves to participating when and wherever I could,” says King-Stockton, who realized that some of her Denver Public Schools teachers were Deltas when she joined the organization. With experience in every sector in Denver’s communities, Deltas have had a large influence on the city’s social progress and they continue to welcome women who want to serve.
When asked if Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., and other
African American fraternities and sororities are still relevant, Harvell addresses the ongoing need for community service and engagement. “If not us, then who?” she says. “There continues to be work to be done. If young women are about service and giving back to the community, we want to encourage that and let them know they can be a part of our organization to do greater things. But if they are not in that space, we try to educate them on the importance and the need for us to give back to our community and be a part of the solution, to be a part of positive change that is going to make our communities thrive and be better.”
While churches are typically assumed to be the cornerstones of African American communities, our sororities and fraternities are the mortar that enables educated professionals and organizational members from all walks of life to directly impact progress and affect change. The relationship between religious institutions and fraternal organizations is symbiotic, bringing people together to give and receive help with a common mission to do the greatest good. Several churches throughout the Metro-Denver community have close relationships with African American fraternities and sororities and the members who sit in their congregations. Shorter African Methodist Episcopal Church has been a long-time supporter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. The relationship allows both organizations to maximize their impact throughout the community and implement several programs that benefit high school students and graduates, while boosting confidence and self-esteem.
In addition to college readiness programming, the Denver Alumnae Chapter has partnered with Gateway High School in Aurora to facilitate the Empowering Males to Build Opportunities for Developing Independence (EMBODI) program, which addresses the developmental needs of African-American and other males of color ages 14 to 18, with an evolving focus on education, physical health, social and emotional issues, sexuality, economics, and politics. The program serves as a motivational tool for African American and other teenage males of color with the ultimate goal of increasing their knowledge and awareness of issues affecting young men of color today.
Delta Sigma Theta, Inc. embodies the age-old adage, ‘To whom much is given much is expected.’ Increasing social, economic, and political strain has forged the country into a time of uncertainty, requiring the action and inspiration of a strong society of women who share the common purpose of community advancement. Webb, with a history of excellence in leadership and service, shares her perspective on Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.’s, ongoing contributions to social progress, “In today’s world, Delta has been a voice and an active force for justice where unjust acts of violence are perpetrated on African Americans and other people of color, or where bigotry harms people. In recent memory, Delta has been a pillar for the advancement of eradicating the low number of professionals who are people of color in disciplines such as medical physicians and other care providers. There are so many other areas of need that Delta is actively involved in today to make a difference in today’s world.
The involvement of Delta Sigma Theta, Inc. is evidenced by its outstanding 106 years and the Denver Alumnae Chapter’s exemplary 80 years of service, scholarship, and sisterhood. Today, this organization continues to be vocal, impactful, caring, supportive, and utilizes the power of love to improve the world. This I know.”
The 80-year celebration of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., is a time of reflection and remembrance as generations of women are thanked for their dedicated service to the communities they call home.