It was a tough decision to make for some, and not so tough for others. But a decision had to be made.
The leadership of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority had about 16,000 registered attendees expected in New Orleans for the public service organization’s 54th national convention. The weather looked like it could take a turn for the worse. Although Deltas have been to New Orleans since and everything was fine, many remember Hurricane Katrina 14 years ago.
When reports from the Weather Channel and meteorologists across the country focused on the threat of Tropical Storm Barry, sorority sisters, speakers, honorees, vendors, family members and loved ones begin rethinking their travel plans. Some canceled their trips altogether, while others who were already in route or had arrived, were faced with decisions.
New Orleans was ready for the Deltas, who were going to paint the town red. But New Orleans is always ready. It’s a beautiful destination and combines good food, good people, great entertainment, great customer service with a smile, good food, wonderful attractions, good people, serious programming, and, I might add, good food—well you have a formula for a successful gathering. Just ask Essence Festival-goers who were there just a week prior.
I smile just thinking of the wonderful times I have had in New Orleans, the city in the state with so many great HBCUs, and folks who act like they are glad, well actually honored, to have you there. But if you will recall, during Hurricane Katrina, folks asked: “Why, when the threat was issued, didn’t many citizens leave New Orleans?”
Truth is yes, there were many who thought things would blow over as they did in the past, and others, simply didn’t have anywhere to go. New Orleans was their home!
Which brings me to my truth: Doing the right thing can be challenging.
Everyone can second guess—talk about what should have happened or what they would have done. You see, it’s difficult to make decisions that impact thousands, but that’s what leaders have to do. That’s what Delta Sigma Theta Sorority president Beverly E. Smith did when she announced that the convention would come to an end at noon on the third day of the five-day convention.
“The safety and well being of our members and friends is our top priority,” she said. “We have been in regular communication throughout the week with Mayor LaToya Cantrell, the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center leadership and a host of other local organizations who contributed to the production of the 54th national convention.
“While the decision to conclude our convention was a decision we did not anticipate making, I am confident that the best choice was made to not only protect our members but also all those who have helped to make our time in New Orleans a success. Notwithstanding an abbreviated agenda we were able to handle the business of Delta. Our members are returning to their communities energized and committed to implementing programs to uplift their communities.”
And if one lesson was learned for many, especially the vendors; you must invest in an insurance policy. Also, this is not the first time the sorority has faced challenges during convention time.
In 1985, Delta Airlines Flight #191, crashed in Dallas, Texas, killing 137, including passengers, flight crew and a motorist on the ground. Members of Delta Sigma Theta were among the fatalities.
I still remember the tears, the praying, the spirit of family as people from all walks of life came together, donating blood, food, and a shoulder—helping out, everywhere.
Although Barry did not do the anticipated damage to New Orleans, precautions needed to be taken. Last week, what was also appropriately lauded was the decision to donate to local charities the food, which had been purchased by the Sorority through the convention center’s in-house catering service, Center Plate. The food, according to President Smith, would have been used for two food functions, the Sisterhood Luncheon and closing Soiree Celebration.
Imagine the thousands who will benefit from that one decision. And these are the stories I like to hear and spread. But guess what? Sorority and fraternities are always doing positive deeds.
There are so many dedicated men and women who are committed to public service and making a difference in their communities. I’m committed to sharing those stories of the great members of the Divine 9 (Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority and Iota Phi Theta Fraternity).
We must work together, and I urge those charged with telling the stories of the great works of their organizations to step up. If they need help, I’m more than happy to assist.
Just like with the Black Press, our organizations have to tell our own stories. We have to shape the narrative, or others will do the developing and many times we won’t like the results. Thanks President Smith for doing the right thing. I’m proud of you as the leader of our great sorority!
This too, shall pass.