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SC's Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority sisters celebrate Kamala Harris' rise to vice president

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COLUMBIA — In January 2019, then-U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris attended a posh fundraiser for the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority at the University of South Carolina.

Her appearance wasn't a coincidence. It was the same week the California Democrat announced she was running for president. She needed to make inroads in South Carolina — an early primary state crucial to her chances of victory.

But the presidential hopeful planned on attending the event in Columbia long before announcing her bid. She is a proud sister of the prominent African American sorority, one that boasts an extensive network of 300,000 members nationwide.

"When we look at where we are in this moment in the history of our country, I think our (sorority) founders gave us the right charge," Harris said at the gathering.

"They said, 'Stand together, take care of each other and serve your country as leaders.' And that’s what we do today."

Fast-forward to 2020, that's exactly what Harris accomplished, making history as the first woman, first Black and first Asian American vice president-elect.

In the wake of Harris' victory, South Carolina's Alpha Kappa Alpha sisters are celebrating not only the win for one of their own, but also for Black and female representation on the geopolitical stage. 

There are 18 Alpha Kappa Alpha chapters in South Carolina ranging from public schools such as Clemson University and the College of Charleston to historically Black colleges and universities such as Benedict and Voorhees colleges.

Sierra Stewart, Alpha Kappa Alpha chapter president at USC, is psyched to see someone who shares her Greek letters among the highest level of government.

"As a sister, I am proud," Stewart said. "As a female, I'm overjoyed. As a minority, I'm excited. Representation is critical more than ever before."

Alpha Kappa Alpha is is the first historically Black Greek-lettered sorority. In 1908 the organization was founded at Howard University, a historically Black college, in Washington, D.C. Harris was initiated into Alpha Kappa Alpha in 1986 as a student there.

While the organization's nonprofit status prevents the sorority from endorsing political candidates, Alpha Kappa Alpha has been outspokenly supportive of Harris victory. 

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Glenda Glover, the sorority's international president and CEO, has done countless interviews with national TV outlets since Harris' election and has publicly stated how much pride the Greek organization takes in her win.

"It's a testament to her leadership skills that she picked up at Howard University and the ones she learned at Alpha Kappa Alpha," Glover said in an interview with CBS. "We see it as opening doors for so many. That glass ceiling in politics, she has put a crack in that." 

While Alpha Kappa Alpha chapters have to refrain from overt endorsements, it didn't stop many individuals from showing up to events, encouraging people to vote and give financially. 

After Harris was announced as President-elect Joe Biden's running mate, more than 15,000 checks poured into the Democratic National Committee with the exact amount of "$19.08." It was a reference to the year Alpha Kappa Alpha was founded.

India Chaney, a senior at Allen University in Columbia, serves as president of the Alpha Kappa Alpha chapter at the historically Black school. She helped organize a "Get Out The Vote" event encouraging college students to go to the polls.

While South Carolina went for the Donald Trump-Mike Pence ticket three weeks ago, she felt like the hard work paid off.

"It makes me feel proud to be a Black woman and shows that anything is possible," Chaney said. "Her election is a reaffirmation of what HBCUs have historically provided and continue to offer."

State Sen. Mia McLeod, D-Columbia, was a sister of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority at USC. She attended the fundraiser where Harris made an appearance and sat at her table. 

She's always admired the vice president-elect and even said she's been mistaken as her doppelgänger at airports and restaurants. 

"We are about character and service for all," McLeod said. "(Harris) embodies all of it. It certainly speaks to me as an AKA woman, but it also speaks to me as a Black woman and a sister senator. Representation is everything."

While Harris found support among her Alpha Kappa Alpha sisters, she drew support from a wide number of historic Black colleges and universities and their affiliated African-American Greek organizations. 

Other members of the “Divine Nine” Black fraternities and sororities have a total membership approaching 1 million across the nation. Many of them worked in support of Biden and Harris.

"This goes beyond AKA," McLeod said. "This shows that Black women are the backbone of the Democratic party. But AKA led the charge, and it paid off."

Reach Thomas Novelly at 843-937-5713. Follow him @TomNovelly on Twitter. 

Thomas Novelly is a political reporter based in Charleston. He also covers the military community and veterans throughout South Carolina. Previously, he wrote for the Courier Journal in Kentucky. He is a fan of Southern rock, bourbon and horse racing.

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