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'Community is the source of our strength' | How community and service to it is a cornerstone of Black culture

From the Black fraternities and sororities helping neighbors in need, to Kwanzaa, to the day of service that is MLK Day, interconnectedness abounds in Black culture.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Around Charlotte, an army of community servants are at work. If there is a need, Charlotte's historically Black sororities and fraternities are there on a regular basis, trying to solve it.

Leland Howard, president of Charlotte's coalition of these Greek-letter organizations, the National Pan-Hellenic Council, said it would be hard to quantify how many hours of community service local groups put out each year since they host events so regularly and there are nine organizations altogether.

"We have to be out there," Howard, who is also a member of Alpha Phi Alpha, said. "We have to help make sure that community is taken care of."

Howard said service ranges from feeding the homeless and tutoring and mentoring students, to hosting forums so voters can understand candidates and their platforms.

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Credit: Omega Psi Phi

Most recently, the groups have moved into the healthcare sector, educating the community about COVID-19, vaccines, and protecting oneself from the virus.

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"It's been a history of Black people just not having and just not getting the same level of treatment or the same benefits," Howard said. "So, as organizations, we look at those deficits, and we look to where we can fill in."

Credit: Phi Beta Sigma

The National Pan-Hellenic Council, also known as the "Divine Nine" is made up of the following Greek-letter organizations:

Credit: Alpha Phi Alpha

All of the groups place a strong focus on serving the community.

"Knowing the need, knowing that we need to help because if we don't, we might not get it," Howard said. "So, that's where the organizations have jumped in to make sure that we spearhead a lot of these community service events."

Credit: Zeta Phi Beta

The groups' zero-tolerance for need and for hate echo Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s dream of that "Beloved Community," a dream the nation puts into action on MLK Day itself, which is the only federal holiday designated as a national day of service.

Credit: Alpha Kappa Alpha

Afeni Grace, the Educational Initiatives and Public Programs Manager for the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts and Culture, said one only needs to look at expressions of Black culture on display around the center to see the importance of community. 

"In a lot of ways, our community is the source of our strength and is the source of our growth," Grace said. "I think a lot of times when people have been disenfranchised or people have had to fight for certain rights, it naturally makes a people more inclined to serve each other."

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Credit: Zeta Phi Beta Sorority

She said that concept of "each other" and interconnectedness is at the heart of Kwanzaa, too.

"The foundation is people coming together and leaning on each other to kind of celebrate the harvest and celebrate what's to come and celebrate what has happened," Grace said.

Credit: Delta Sigma Theta

For Grace, community service is just as much about making sure people have access to the art, music, film and other elements celebrating Black culture as it is about helping others with basic necessities.

During Black History Month, she said the Gantt Center has offered more workshops and programs, free of charge or at a discounted price, wanting to make sure as many people as possible can enjoy the empowering education.

"What's beautiful is that it takes a community to invest in each other and support each other," Grace said.

And every day, community caretakers across the Queen City are taking that message to heart, making that service investment, knowing that a community only rises together.

Credit: Iota Phi Theta

Contact Vanessa Ruffes at vruffes@wcnc.com and follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagram

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