Black Greek organizations fight voter suppression with ‘Stroll to the Polls’ movement

Kerry Justich
·6-min read
Women from the Divine 9 take part in Stroll to the Polls movement. (Photo: Mario Page Photography)
Women from the Divine Nine take part in Stroll to the Polls. (Photo: Mario Page Photography)

Black women and men of nine historically Black Greek organizations — known as the “Divine Nine” — have been doing their part to mobilize voters to the polls for decades by helping to register and educate their communities on important political issues. But now, leading up to the 2020 presidential election, the women that make up four of the Divine Nine are finally getting wide recognition — with their movement called “Stroll to the Polls,” complete with viral videos and images of Black women making their way to voting sites.

Maisha Land of Atlanta, Ga., a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha (AKA) — a historically Black sorority founded at Howard University — brought the movement to life by bringing members of multiple Black sororities together to make a statement with powerful imagery in early October. Her idea was sparked and later supported by the shoutout to AKA given by Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris as she accepted her nomination in August.

“Family is my beloved Alpha Kappa Alpha, our Divine Nine and my HBCU [historically black colleges and universities] brothers and sisters,” Harris said onstage.

Fellow Alpha Kappa Alpha member Kimberley Egonmwan and the social action chairwoman for the National Pan-Hellenic Council Chicago chapter tells Yahoo Life that the civic engagement work of these historically Black organizations is nothing new. With Harris’s representation, however, their work is now being highlighted.

“If she is successfully elected as vice president, that will be the first, not only Black woman as a vice president, but the first woman as a vice president, the first graduate of a historically Black college or university as a vice president, and the first member of a Black Greek organization as a vice president,” Egonmwan says. “That will be the first time any of that has happened.”

Egonmwan additionally explains that Harris’s shoutout to the organization in her speech goes to show just how AKA helped Harris to develop the leadership skills that led her to this nomination. And although the sorority remains nonpartisan, Harris’s mention has certainly helped in AKA’s general efforts to mobilize voters to the polls.

“It's the culture of Black Greek organizations to of course be extremely involved in civic engagement, but we also really enjoy each other and we enjoy fraternizing with each other and having a really good time as well,” Egonmwan says, explaining that the “Stroll to the Polls” movement combines the two.

Land didn’t immediately respond to Yahoo Life’s request for comment. However, Egonmwan provides context to the powerful images and video that Land was inspired to create, and the words that appear on each participant’s shirt.

“There are things called Greek strolls. They're actual strolls that are unique to each organization. So if you saw pink and green and this one organization doing a stroll, it would be unique. The call sign, the way they hold their hands, the way that we move, it will be unique to Alpha Kappa Alpha,” she explains. “And I'm sure you've heard of step shows [popular rhythmic style of dance with footsteps and hand claps], as well. So I think that they basically were combining that to let the world know that we need to all go and vote. And so it's called Stroll to the Polls.”

Since Land was joined by dozens of women in her get-out-the-vote movement in Atlanta, men and women across the country have posted photos and videos of themselves headed to the ballots with the hashtag #StrolltothePolls.

Saturday Night Live even did a skit called “Strollin’” to show why these efforts are so important, as a group of Black voters in ’70s-inspired looks face a number of obstacles in trying to get to the polls.

Egonmwan explains that it is for this reason that people cannot simply participate in the movement without acknowledging its origins within historically Black organizations.

“These organizations are really just the outgrowth of a larger civil rights struggle that began well over a hundred years ago. In particular, Black women have been fighting for the right to vote,” she says of the roots of Black Greek organizations. And while she’s excited to see Atlanta members get viral attention for their strolls, Egonmwan reminds Americans to take a deeper look into the work of Black women.

“That video really went viral because, you know, everyone had on beautiful colors and they were dancing. But I think what is sometimes lost is all the work that we do in these communities 24/7 and have been doing well before there was ever a Kamala Harris, well before there was ever a 2020, before there was a President Obama, before there was anything like that. We are working, all of the chapters, all of the individuals all over this country, and we have got chapters across the world with different targets in which we are trying to make our community better.”

While voter registration, education, mobilization and participation have long been at the core of these organizations’ efforts, Egonmwan says that an election protection committee has been added for the 2020 general election to ensure that the community doesn’t face voter suppression. When it comes to Black women in particular, Egonmwan explains not only the importance of voting but also the importance of being represented in positions of power and ensuring that voices are heard.

“Black women are one of the largest growing voting blocks in the United States right now. And it's just important because we're a reliable voting block and Black women also want their voices to be heard as actual elected officials. So we encourage Black women to run for office, and we encourage black people in general to run for office and to listen, to actually listen to what is needed in our communities across the country,” she says. “The only way to alleviate those problems is to make sure that we've got responsible people in office. So we're just trying every way possible to ensure that our voices are heard.”

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