Cupellation: Thoughts on Becoming Silver – a series. #1

Cupellation is a refining process in metallurgy, where ores or alloyed metals are treated under very high temperatures and have controlled operations to separate noble metals, like gold and silver, from base metals like lead, copper, zinc, arsenic, antimony or bismuth, present in the ore. The process is based on the principle that precious metals do not oxidize or react chemically, unlike the base metals; so when they are heated at high temperatures, the precious metals remain apart and the others react forming slags or other compounds.


I think that this definition is spot on when it comes to thinking about my becoming Silver in this organization.  I don’t make a lot of posts that are purely AKA related because I haven’t felt 1000% comfortable putting the thoughts “down”.   But here at my 25-year mark – there’s a lot that I want to memorialize.  And ultimately put out of my head forever starting this year.   Because the next 25 absolutely have to be different.

On being a charter line.  An undergraduate charter line.  In the early 90s. 

Talk about confusion.   Firstly – let’s consider that we are talking about 18 – 20-year-olds attending college.  Looking back through my 44-year-old eyes – we were still essentially babies.   Just new in this world they told us where you have responsibilities and consequences and less protection.  Maybe not all the wherewithal to make all the right-est decisions, but expected to.   Then,  being courted by an organization who after 81 years of traditionally having a process to initiate new young women into its midst, threw the process away on account of risk (people being hurt, people being killed, them losing overall control of the matter) and attempting to transition into this new “weekend” process.  But charter membership being altogether different – having to have a “colony” on campus for 18 months and having to do service and put on activities AS IF we were members of the sorority – HOWEVER WE WERE NOT MEMBERS  and constantly being reminded of it. ALL THE WHILE – whispers of how we would NOT be respected in our city if we didn’t pledge.  Like hardcore, underground, in the boots, behind closed doors, on the wall, in the shadows PLEDGE our allegiance to AKA.   That if we “skated” and “merely” went through the weekend process (NEVERMIND THE 18 months of HARD FUCKING WORK) we would not be respect worthy.  Typing it just reanimates the abyss we were thrown into.

After all that work – OF COURSE we wanted to be respected.  But that wasn’t the prevailing sentiment amongst our peers.   Hell – some of the older women weren’t down with it either.  They remembered what they had to do.  What they learned.  The positive (if it was positive) experiences they had to master in order to claim membership in this sisterhood. Or at least the weird war stories that were shared experiences that bonded them as a line and maybe through the ages, with other Greeks who had similar occurances. And THEY felt it was a great sieve for ruling out people who “should not” be members.  If you couldn’t tolerate the amount of work to be done in those weeks – then you CERTAINLY were not primed for the work of being a life long AKA.   The dynamics are different. Other Greek organizations on college campuses induct you for those years that you’re at school.  They even take freshmen.  And then in between the obligatory service projects in order to maintain their charter on the campus – you have a-rockin’ good time with your brothers and sisters.  Partying, carrying on, making crazy memories for the remainder of those 4 years.  And then it’s something you remember fondly should you bump into one another at a college reunion or a random board meeting down the line.    Not the Great Eight (at the time… Divine 9 now).  They didn’t touch you till you were a Sophomore (or… at least, they weren’t supposed to).   They had to see that you established yourself as someone who held academia as a priority.   And perhaps used that year to observe if you have high moral and ethical standards as well.   And then once you cleared the interview and were greenlighted for membership, the intention was for that to be FOR LIFE.   Not passively.   For you to join a graduate chapter right out of college and continue the works you had begun in undergrad.  You weren’t supposed to stop.  Because in your PLEDGE (which everyone recites by the way – in every organization) there’s a part that states “lifetime” or “lifelong” and you’re promising your life.   NOT just your college life.   NOT just the next few years if you find the time.  NOT just in your spare.   Your life.   Just like a marriage.   Just like parenting.

At least – that’s the gravity I gave it.

Strangely enough, upon entering college I EXPLICITLY said i had no intention of joining a sorority.  It all seemed so frivolous.  Parties and being “sisters” to some frat that would use you and being airheaded a la “delta delta delta may I help ya help ya help ya” or even worse – being passed around like the Gamma Rays for reasons unspeakable.   It wasn’t who I was.  I would NEVER lend myself to anything like that.  That wasn’t my steez.  Then at the orientation fair, i came across a table of women.  Black women who looked like they had their shit together.  Strong.  Focused.  Determined.  Articulate.  Passionate.  Zeta Phi Beta.   “Oh…” I thought, “Is this an honor society? Like Phi Beta Kappa but for Black women?”  I had never heard of them.    In that same moment, I came to know that my cousin, Alain, who I grew up with but had lost touch within our high school years was a male member of this organization (as I had interpreted) Phi Beta Sigma.  They called each other brothers and sisters or Frat and “Sores”.  I had NO idea what that latter word meant.  Why were the women “sores”?  My cousin advised me that if i was the least bit interested, I should attend their informational meeting.   Sure.  I saw no harm in that.   I got the date for it and set my mind to attend.   All that I really took away from that night in that room was an overwhelming feeling that I didn’t belong there.  For sure, the women were strong and passionate and driven.  They had a deep understanding of their ties back to the motherland.   I learned that night that they were SORORS (the latin word for “Sister”… and it plagued me why they wouldn’t be using the GREEK word – but never mind….)  But I was a fish out of water.  I didn’t mesh well.  I was uncomfortable.  Enough to not want to pursue that route anymore.   I went back to my original sentiment that Sorority life wasn’t for me.  Especially if this was the extent of the spectrum it had to offer.

I began a work-study program in the Electronic Learning Labs at Pace University, which was a fledgling computer lab whose sole purpose was to teach students exactly how to use these new pieces of software – Word. Excel. Powerpoint.  They were BRAND new on the scene and folks found themselves struggling.  But the lab was the brainchild of a brilliant, motivated, driven administrator at the school.  Then – Mrs. Kim Daniel-Clarke – straddled the fences between heading up Pace’s ELL, assisting with the CAP program (Challenge to Achievement at Pace) and spearheading the Pre-Freshmen Summer Program – aimed at kids who realized a touch too late in their high school careers that they shouldn’t be futzing around and need to get into College.  Pace held a 3 week intensive for these kids between high school and college admission to get them to right the ship.  Right the thinking.  Right the grades. And start college on the right foot.  She was a major cog in ALL of this.   She was a small yet powerful tornado when it came to administering these programs which she knew helped young Black and Latinx students get a better leg up into their academic lives.  She was unrelenting but poised.   She had a finesse about her but wielded the strength of 10 suns.  I was in absolute awe of her.  I knew if I should ever run anything in life, I wanted to do it like her.  She was hard as a hammer but everything around her was soft and subtle.  Pink and Green even.  All her folders and Filofaxes.  Even the screen on her computer was pink and green.   One day I got the courage to ask her.   “What’s with all the Pink and Green?”  She explained to me that she was a member of a Sorority.  The first Black Greek Lettered Sorority.  I searched my mental databases to figure out where in the Zetas there was mention of Pink and Green but there was none.   “We’re not on this campus.  Yet,” she emphasized.  Then she encouraged me to go up to Harlem and visit the Schomberg Library.  Ask about the history books of the Black Greek Sororities and read up.  Then come back for a discussion.   I re-verified the name of the one she was in.  She said deliberately and with a pride I’ll never forget: “Alpha. Kappa. Alpha.”

That day I rode one of the new-fangled A trains up to Harlem.  Even though I wanted to hear Ella crooning in my head about taking said train, this one was updated like crazy.  With LED read outs about where it came from and where it was going.  Powder blue seats and a wider inside than I had ever seen.  And it was CLEAN and smelled…. it didn’t smell like anything.  WOW.  What a privilege.  This was one of the test trains they had running intermittently throughout the city.   I got off at 135th and walked a few blocks east to the legendary library.  I was able to get 2 of the books – “In Search of Sisterhood” which was the history book for Delta Sigma Theta and “Through the Years” the history book for Alpha Kappa Alpha.   I read through both and they both seems really similar in their interests as they pertained to the community and the way they were passionate about bringing change.  It was nice to know that there were choices.  But my experience with the Zetas on my campus exemplified to me that it didn’t matter what was in the books at this point.  I need to meet with and sit in a group of them and see how I felt.  Early on I got that the goal was similar (colors, mottos, mascots and flowers changed…) but they ALL wanted to help the community.  But my need to feel at ease IN the group was something I longed for above all else.  Especially if they wanted LIFE out of me.

Later in the semester, I got a chance to attend a stepshow where there were Deltas present.   There were… SO MANY of them.   It was inspiring to see so many of them and them seeming to be of one accord.   Then I watched their team step.  Something about their mannerisms put me off.   They were… unladylike.   They were angry.   They kept referring to the other orgs in the most disparaging way.  Then I remembered how in the first few pages of their History book, there was a bit of that too.  I didn’t love the chip on their shoulder.   Then the AKAs came out. Wearing Pink Suede blazers and Black riding pants and black stacked heeled boots. They were all slender and pretty.  Hair flowing and perfectly coiffed.  Their presentation was so… poised.  They were upper echelon.  They didn’t even acknowledge the other orgs.  Just focused on expressing why THEY were dope and what THEY do for the community.  I liked it.  I wanted more.

I came back to Mrs. Daniel-Clarke and told her of my many findings and she encouraged me to find out when there would be interested meetings around the city.  Since there was no chapter AT Pace proper, I would have to pursue the City chapter – Lambda Chapter.   It was founded in 1922 under the guidance of some of the Sorority Founders.  It was a big deal. I sought out whatever information I could and me and a couple of the girls from the dormitory that I’d befriended headed over to an informational in Harlem.  It was in the garden of one of the brownstones up there.  Very hoity toit.   I’d gotten some good tips up to that point – avoid EVERYTHING pink and green: don’t wear it, don’t touch it, don’t eat or drink it.  It was considered disrespect if you were not already a member to “enjoy” the spoils of those colors.   Be extra humble and teachable to everyone – not just members.  You never know who you’re talking to.  And overall – do more listening than talking.  Helps you out in the long run.   I was FOR SURE more at ease in this group of women.  They reminded me of my cousins Iderle and Stephanie who I grew up admiring.  Tall, beautiful, intelligent, headstrong, gorgeous hair, perfect skin, independent.   I wanted NOTHING MORE than to be like them.  And here… a ROOM full of them.  Surely Iderle and Fafanne became members of the organization at their respective schools.  It would only be right.  I put my information down for the distribution list and returned to Mrs. Daniel-Clarke with my findings.  “Are you sure?” she quizzed after I burst with excitement all over her office.  “Yes, Kim,” I replied, “This is the one for me.  What do I do?”  Kim kept her cool.  “Okay then.  I have some information for you.  They are looking to charter a chapter here at Pace and are looking for eligible young ladies.  I think you fit right in. ”  She handed me a sticky note with date and time to attend an informational.  I had no idea how my life was about to change forever.

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