Thursday, January 16, 2020

Sisterhood is a Verb

There are a lot of people who will come into your life, and as you try to figure out how to define them, I want to issue a few words of caution...

This meme came to my attention when one of my FB groups made it the profile picture. I downloaded it to my phone last month and have been waiting for just the right moment to share it. January 13, which marks Founders' Day for my sorors of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. seemed as good a day as any, but to be honest, any day within the last couple of weeks would have been sufficient. This coming week as the ladies of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. (January 15) and Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. (January 16) celebrate their Founders, it is entirely fitting as we recognize the illustrious women of those organizations. Back when I was all aglow while celebrating my 25th Reunion at Spelman or perhaps at some point in the coming months when I prepare to celebrate my 30th high school reunion, this meme is just as relevant as I commemorate my grounding in institutions that were founded to educate young women.

Sisterhood is an action. I know this in my bones and in my soul. I know it because for the past year, God has been showing me just how blessed I am to be called a sister/soror/friend by so many women. It is something that becomes clearer and more poignant in moments of grief, but it is similarly intense and beautiful in everyday moments. Sisterhood is the unexpected invitation. It is the out-of-the-blue phone call. It is the just because text or card in the mail. It is love, which is another action verb that we all need to learn when and how to use more appropriately.

And let me emphasize that part--sisterhood requires love. In spite of the coordinated colors and oaths and candle-lit ceremonies, without love most groups are only able to provide you with affiliation. Your political party is an affiliation. Your membership in most civic activities is an affiliation. Your job, your school, and even your church might be affiliations--places where you work, where you earned a degree, or where you show up to worship on special occasions. The transformation of these spaces depends a lot on the relationships you establish there.

Therefore, sisterhood is a choice. At a key moment last year, I am forever grateful to have realized the difference between what I was choosing and what I was obligated to do. I had invested a great deal of time and energy into an effort, but at a certain point it became evident that it was more draining than fulfilling. Walking away left me with mixed emotions, but ultimately it brought me peace of mind especially once it became clear that my presence would not be missed. I was not meant to find sisterhood amidst that group, and that has been just fine.

Sisterhood is showing up. It is standing up. It does not back down in the face of obstacles. Sisterhood is not symbolic, which is why some of us are dubious of safety pins, little black dresses, and co-opted slogans that only seem to work for those who are only invested in their own liberation. Sisterhood is hard work, not an adjective that can be applied to every group of seemingly like-minded women.

My sincere hope this week as thousands of my sorors and women from two other Black Greek-Lettered Organizations celebrate the establishment of our sororities, is that we take time to reflect more on what binds us in the larger purpose of serving our communities. I know why I chose Delta, but that choice does not preclude me from celebrating the work of my AKA sisters in their support of HBCUs. I have been anticipating the centennial celebrations of my Zeta sisters because I recall how exciting and overwhelming it was seven years ago for us. I am intrigued to see how my SGRho sisters will catch the spirit in preparation of their centennial by honoring their firsts. Enough of our Founders lived long enough to see the evolution of what they started blossom into something much more profound, so we honor that legacy by respecting and supporting each other.

Of course, this topic has emotional resonance for me in light of my friend's transition. She facilitated my membership into Delta, sat through my initiation, and was a model soror for others to emulate. Thus on Saturday for the first time ever, I experienced an emotional reaction during our ritual (also later while singing the Spelman Hymn) because in both moments, I had another epiphany about sisterhood. It lives...eternally. When we memorialize that connection, we aren't severing a bond--we are immortalizing it.

I recall a conversation I had with my now-adult nieces about the pitfalls of living with other young women, and it saddened me to learn that they were so wary of developing bonds with their peers. To them, the prospect of betrayal was too great a risk (as if other kinds of relationships aren't susceptible to the same fate). Of course, we've all learned that lesson the hard way--sisterhood can be imperfect, petty, and superficial. And? Get over any hang-ups and disappointments you have with individuals who are human and fallible, as if you haven't ever fallen short. Sisterhood begins in the space where you leave behind any expectations of proportionate reciprocation. All things may never be equal, but how many relationships in your life truly are? Heck, some of your relatives are just people you know.

Having grown up without biological sisters, it has been fortuitous to find myself in spaces where women gather. From the deaconesses who brought me into their circle as a teenager to the matrix of seasoned sorors who mentor me now to the crowds of eager young ladies I have recruited for Spelman, my life has been enriched by their presence. This is why I can attest that sisterhood is more than membership in a clique. Sisterhood is like the compound interest we earn on our investments. The deposits might be small, but over time the value increases. It deepens the more time you commit. Sure there are years that are better than others, but that is the natural ebb and flow of life. It flourishes, it might languish, but like a plant it can be revived with the right amount of care and attention.

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