For some, the word sorority immediately inspires visions of college-age women wearing Greek-lettered shirts, gathering for social functions and staging philanthropic events.
Candle-bearing rituals, fraternity mixers, step shows and memorizing the sorority history may also come to mind.
But Paulette Walker wants you to know there's so much more, especially with her sorority, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.
"Our biggest challenge is making sure that mainstream America understands the importance of organizations like Delta Sigma Theta," Walker said Wednesday. "We're the largest black female organization in the world but people don't know what kind of impact we can have.
"They see the word sorority and all they think of is partying and stepping. They don't see us as a force to reckon with, but we are a force."
The sorority will be in full force this weekend in Tampa as the national chapter continues the year-long celebration of its 100th anniversary.
The nation's largest African-American sorority, Delta Sigma Theta created a 22-city torch tour to commemorate the milestone. The 22 cities reflect the sorority's 22 founders and the torch will pass through the hometowns of the sorority's living past national presidents, current executive committee members and two of its international chapters — Tokyo and Bermuda.
Walker, retired director of undergraduate programs at the University of South Florida, serves as the sorority's national first vice president and it is her Tampa Alumnae chapter that will host events around the torch tour this weekend. It's significant that Tampa Bay is the tour's only stop in Florida.
The tour kicks off with an educational event involving more than 300 students at the Museum of Science and Industry from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturday.
Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, state Sen. Arthenia Joyner, a Delta herself, and Delta national president Cynthia M.A. Butler-McIntyre will be part of a second presentation at the Tampa Convention Center at 6 p.m. Saturday.
The pomp and circumstance matters, but so do the everyday efforts of Delta Sigma Theta. With more than 200,000 members, Walker rightfully notes that the sorority influences a number of social issues. Its current mission includes economic development, educational development, international affairs, physical and mental health, and political awareness.
The sorority looks to engage local and state leaders and holds "Delta Days" every year in Washington, D.C., where it advocates with leaders.
Though it emphasizes the issues impacting African-Americans, Walker said the sorority has members from all nationalities and ethnicities and also looks to engage broader community concerns.
"Health care is an issue for everybody," Walker said.
It always surprises me when people looking to make a true change in the community don't seek the help of sororities and fraternities. With greater collaboration, the shared goal of social activism can be underscored.
"It's Delta Sigma Theta — comma — Incorporated," Walker said emphatically. "Our involvement doesn't end when we graduate. Our commitment is for a lifetime."
The weekend will mark a special time for Walker and all of the sorority's members. Let's hope that it also sparks a greater awareness of the sorority's impact that can only make us a better community.
That's all I'm saying.