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Service sorority celebrates 60 years of promoting academics, health, sisterhood

The list of Alpha Kappa Alpha accomplishments and activities in Pinellas County is long. Members of the Zeta Upsilon Omega chapter of the national African-American sorority highlighted many of them during their recent 60th anniversary celebration.

Hundreds of youths have received college scholarships, tutoring, college tours, ACT and SAT preparation, public speaking practice, homework help and more through the AKAdemy and other programs. The sorority has also hosted many informational speakers, health fairs, career fairs and presented debutantes.

Myrtle Williams, a member for more than 50 years, remembers meeting in members' homes when the chapter was younger. As its numbers grew they started meeting at recreation centers and St. Petersburg College. It currently has 92 members. The chapter also has gone from receiving $25,000 a year from the county's Juvenile Welfare Board to about $115,000 to help finance its many programs.

Members join the sorority, which was started at Howard University in Washington, D.C. in 1908, while in college but continue with community service and sisterhood as adults. "We sign up for life," 26-year-member Manitia Moultrie said at a public reception for about 250 men and women. The reception, a holiday party and gala were all held at the St. Petersburg Hilton Bayfront.

Lisa Brody, a 24-year member with 15 years in Zeta Upsilon Omega, said the group's mission of education has changed over the years to keep up with changing needs. Along with offering free test prep, the chapter is doing more to help students stay organized with the college application process. As school guidance counselors have less time, the women of Alpha Kappa Alpha have stepped in to help students get recommendations, transcripts and essays in order. Alpha Kappa Alpha also offers youth global awareness. It recently showed a group of girls the film Girl Rising about the need for female education around the world, Brody said.

Mary Murph, a member for 35 years, said she is proud of the health fairs that raise awareness of the symptoms and treatment for sickle cell disease.

Community leaders and representatives from other African-American fraternities and sororities paid their respects to Zeta Upsilon Omega's 60 years. Judges Michael Andrews and Patrice Moore, both of the Pasco-Pinellas 6th Judicial Circuit Court, served as the master and mistress of ceremonies.

"Only in America can a kid in a Jewish fraternity grow up to be mayor and get invited to speak to the amazing women of Alpha Kappa Alpha," said Mayor Rick Kriseman. He presented a proclamation to the group honoring its work.

"For all the garbage you hear on the radio and TV we need these kinds of positive role models," said Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch before presenting a key to the county to the chapter.

"Oh look, it's pink and green," City Council member Wengay Newton said (referring to the sorority's trademark colors) to his tablemate Rene Flowers, a Pinellas County School Board member. She excitedly peered forward, realized he was just joking and responded under her breath: "You're going down."

Ivan Tucker, president of the local chapter of Omega Psi Phi fraternity, was perhaps the most well received speaker. He quoted Proverbs 31 and said it perfectly describes the Alpha Kappa Alpha woman. The passage includes:

"She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come.

She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue.

She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness.

Her children arise and call her blessed."

The packed room offered rousing applause, laughter and nods of agreement.