In the documentary, Twenty Pearls, the history of the nation’s first Black sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated, is explored. Beloved actress and sorority member, Phylicia Rashad, narrated the documentary, and even learned some more about the trail blazing group’s history.
“When you pledge a fraternity or a sorority, you learn the names of the founders and the year in which it was founded,” Rashad told CNN's Lisa Respers France in an interview. “But the detailed history that’s in this documentary, we did not learn that as pledgees.” Rashad was initiated into the organization in 1968 at Howard University, where the sorority was founded.
The Twenty Pearls documentary is directed by Riley Draper, who is also a member of the sorority. “It’s an honor to elevate the stories of Black women who have influenced American society using the tools I know and love,” Draper told writer Nsenga K. Burton.
Founded in 1908 by nine women at Howard University, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. boasts a membership exceeding 300,000 globally. Some other notable members include Coretta Scott King, poet Maya Angelou, and Vice President Kamala Harris. Harris was also included in the film.
Rashad shared that she was intrigued by the amount of moments in history the sorority was involved in, providing "service to all mankind," as is the group’s mission. During the Great Depression, members of Alpha Kappa Alpha established a healthcare program in Mississippi that remained in place and helped vaccinate Black people living during Jim Crow era segregation, continuing the legacy of expanding access to healthcare through service.
“With this documentary to learn about the activism among women back in 1923, I’m talking about political activism,” Rashad told CNN. “In the Women’s Suffrage Movement –– not being asked to participate –– however, that did not deter the women [of AKA] from action.”
Rashad said the sorority’s early members “were never idle,” and that they “were very, very active socially, politically, moving for education, moving for equal rights, moving for equality. Not just sitting around complaining about it, but showing up.”
The actress said the sorority continues to carry out the mission “to uplift.” “We will persist in delivering the good,” Rashad said.
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