(Todd A. Smith)
Like many Black Greeks, I have seen adults wearing Greek letters even though they were not members of a fraternity or sorority.
Each time, someone would politely tell them about the meaning of those letters and the paraphernalia would come off without much fuss.
While I would confront an adult about the meaning of my Greek letters, I would never force a child to remove a t-shirt because there is no way that a child meant it in a disrespectful way.
Nashville journalist Jason Lamb of WTVF reported, “The principal at McGovak Elementary School in Nashville is apologizing after a staff member at the school confiscated a shirt that a second grader was wearing.
“The t-shirt, worn by a seven-year-old Peyton Tiger, spelled out ‘AKA 1908’ in pink and green rhinestones across the front—a reference to Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc.—a historically African American sorority.”
Tiger said she wore the shirt because she likes it a lot, an innocent answer from an innocent child.
Unfortunately, the situation escalated when the teacher, who is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha, replaced Tiger’s shirt with a brand-new shirt without the AKA letters.
As a member of a predominantly Black fraternity, I go out of my way to protect my organization in any way possible because I spent my entire childhood dreaming of the day that I could wear crimson and cream, twirl a cane and throw up the Kappa hand sign, affectionately known as the “yo” or the diamond.
Earning my letters as a member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc. meant the world to me.
I grew up wanting to become a Nupe, while wearing child appropriate “Future Nupe” and “My Dad is a Kappa” shirts, because I watched my father’s love for Kappa my entire childhood and I wanted to become a part of that brotherhood of achievers.
Nobody handed membership to me.
As a result, I would never just treat my letters nonchalantly.
However, if somehow my letters got out and ended up in a hand of a non-member, it is my fault because I did not protect my paraphernalia, or I did not educate my loved-ones of how sacred those Greek letters are to members of my organization.
Apparently, Tiger received the shirt as a gift from a family friend who got in from a second-hand source.
To someone outside of the college-educated Black crowd, our shirts are just shirts with no real meaning behind them.
And although Kappa has many non-Black members, I do not expect many non-Black Americans to be knowledgeable about the Divine Nine (the nine predominantly Black fraternities and sororities) and why members are so passionate about their Greek letters.
Furthermore, I definitely would not expect an elementary school student to be knowledgeable about what those letters represent.
Therefore, I cannot condone any member taking a t-shirt off a child no matter how much their letters mean to them.
Instead, I would educate them on the meaning of that shirt, urge them to destroy the shirt and offer to pay for a replacement in those same colors and designs, just not with those Greek letters.
In the teacher’s defense, she did try to educate Tiger’s mother via email.
Unfortunately, the damage had already been done.
The email reads, “Today, I noticed Peyton wearing an AKA shirt. I am a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. (AKA), which is a service organization for college trained and educated women. AKA branded items are trademarked and reserved for members only. Thus, I had to give her a new shirt and take the AKA shirt. The new shirt she received is clean and there is no need to give it back.”
However, that email and replacement shirt should have gone out to Tiger without taking her shirt.
Now, if the parent allowed Tiger to wear the shirt again after the history and meaning was shared with them, then it would no longer be an innocent child’s mistake.
But it did not happen that way.
Unless the shirt violated some school policy, a teacher should not take someone else’s shirt and confiscate it as if he or she is the parent.
While I value my letters like many members of fraternities and sororities, it is not that deep when innocent children are involved.
More importantly, it is time for Black folks to stop acting like every non-Black person is an expert on our history and our culture.
Many Black people who did not grow up around college-educated Black folks are not that knowledgeable about the Divine Nine either.
Nevertheless, I see so much outrage from the Black community when White people are not experts on things like predominantly Black Greek-letter organizations.
Instead of outrage, educate someone out of their lack of knowledge.
Many of the problems that exist in America today are because people do not know much about other communities, cultures or races.
Learning about all the great women that came from Alpha Kappa Alpha like Coretta Scott King and Vice President Kamala Harris might have exposed the girl to a part of American history that her teacher is probably not even allowed to teach anymore.
Tiger could learn about the history of Howard University, the historically Black college where the AKAs were founded.
She might even learn about why Historically Black Colleges and Universities were necessary in the first place because you would be surprised at how many non-Black people do not know that Black people were prohibited from attending historically White universities.
Instead of that learning experience, though, what the community at large received was another divisive episode in a country that is way too divided on important issues to be divided by something so frivolous.