Epsilon Epsilon Omega Chapter History
Seated (L-R): Bernice Brightwell, Regional Director Lucille Wilkins, Louise William Brown.
Standing (L-R): Carrie Alice Pope, Marie Mack-Rivers, Mary Grace Thomas, Annetta Parmer Chavis, Marion Davis, Helen Hite, Clara Smith,
Epsilon Epsilon Omega Charter Members
Marguerite Chism Johnson
Annette Parmer Chavis
Carrie Alice Pope
Marie Mack Rivers
Mary Grace Thomas
Mary Varnado Walden
1949: A Vintage Year
1949 was a vintage year—for it not only gave Champaign-Urbana the Epsilon Epsilon Omega Chapter, but it gave the community thirteen dynamic women. On April 9, 1949, Gamma—the mixed chapter—became Gamma, the undergraduate chapter, and Epsilon Epsilon Omega, the graduate chapter. Currently, Epsilon Epsilon Omega advises Gamma Chapter. The thirteen charter members were determined to perpetuate the idea of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, “Supreme in Service to All Mankind.” Since that eventful day, Epsilon Epsilon Omega has continued to grow. In 2021, its membership reached thirty-eight sorors. The continuous turnover of graduate students at the University helps to decide the size of the chapter. The last membership intake process was in May 2017. Five women were initiated during that intake.
The Chapter has maintained its effectiveness due to the belief that programs should be geared to meet the needs of the community, while at the same time, compatible with the sorority’s international program. In the early days of Epsilon Epsilon Omega’s inception, members met in each other’s homes and at Gamma House to conduct the business of the sorority and to plan activities that would accomplish the chapter programs. In more recent times, members have conducted Executive Committee and Chapter meetings at the Douglass Library, University of Illinois, Don Moyers’ Boys and Girls Club, and the Danville Public Library. Other committee meetings are still held in members’ homes or places of business.
Through the years, the Epsilon Epsilon Omega Chapter has maintained a presence in the community, sponsoring some activities and supporting others. Currently, our reach extends also to Danville, IL, where Epsilon Epsilon Omega Chapter has welcomed members to the chapter from Danville, as well as implemented programs in the Danville community. The chapter has historically participated in community service and fund raising activities. Listed below is an overview of some of Epsilon Epsilon Omega Chapter’s programs and activities through the years.
The Salad Bowl
The Salad Bowl began in 1966. It was one of the Chapter’s smaller fundraisers. It was designed to be an annual summer community-social activity. For fifteen years, on a Sunday afternoon in July, it was held on the front lawn of Soror Maudie Edward’s home. The center table had a large AKA umbrella over it. All other tables were covered with pink tablecloths. The event was a dressy affair. Many people in the community attended and for several years, many sorors attending summer school at the U of I were guests. For this event, the chapter members made the salads. One summer, a salad cookbook was sold. In the early eighties, the Salad Bowl was moved to Douglass Center. The event expanded to include a fashion show. Local stores donated clothes to be modeled.
The funds raised were given back to the community. The activity funded the following: items for seniors at the Douglass Center, fruit baskets for seniors, the Girls Club, NAACP and helped with a senior picnic. The Salad Bowl was discontinued in the late eighties.
Scholarship Dinner Dance
This major fundraiser, used to promote scholarships to area graduating African American juniors and seniors, was first held in the early sixties. In the past the Chapter made a commitment to give scholarships to at least four graduating high school young ladies each year. In more recent years, the Chapter has made a commitment to give out as many scholarships as possible. During the latter part of the 1980s, the chapter sponsored trips to Las Vegas during spring break. Soror Maudie Edwards was the chairman for the Las Vegas trips. Art auctions of African American art were the main source of funds for scholarships during the early 1990s. The art auctions were started by Soror Hettie Collins. A dinner dance was held in conjunction with the art auctions.
In the year 2000, the Chapter adopted the theme, “Pink Panache.” Soror Judy Sigler suggested the name and chaired the event for many years. Pink Panache has taken many forms: dance, art auction, silent auction and a book reading/signing. Since 2012, the Pink Panache has honored community members for community service. Since 2015 the Winding Ivy Awards have been related to our national programs honoring individuals and groups committed to excellence in community service. Pink Panache has become a signature event in the Champaign, Urbana and Danville communities. With addition of the Winding Ivy Awards, the community has overwhelmingly supported Pink Panache. The Pink Panache has established itself as one of the major fundraising events in the African American community each year. This event has allowed the Epsilon Epsilon Omega Chapter to give more substantially through a larger number of scholarships. In 2018, Epsilon Epsilon Omega awarded over $20,000 in scholarships to female high school seniors and to the Reading Is Fundament Project. Due to the amount of funds we now raise, Epsilon Epsilon Omega has started the process to establish a foundation. The foundation is being spearheaded by our Basileus, Tia Butler, Soror Shayla Maatuka and Soror Tameka Tanner. The Fundraising Committee chaired by Soror Patricia McKinney Lewis will lead the fundraising partner committee of the Winding Ivy Foundation for Community Development.
Halloween Fruit Baskets for Seniors
Baskets were initially decorated and filled with fruit to be given to seniors in the community during the Halloween celebration. The Chapter has since incorporated this event into the sorority’s National Volunteer Day. In recent years, baskets have been filled and given to a local church during the Thanksgiving holiday.
Reading is Fundamental (RIF)
In 1979, Soror Patricia McKinney Lewis proposed the Reading is Fundamental Project to the chapter and for the next thirty years she wrote the grant proposals for matching funds from the National Reading Is Fundamental Program that was funded by the United States Congress. Since 1980, Epsilon Epsilon Omega Chapter has received a grant each year to help fund the RIF program. Children’s books have been distributed at the Girls’ and Boys’ Club, Douglass Branch Library and the Douglass Center. More recent RIF distributions have been made at Mount Olive Baptist Church and during C-U Day in the Douglas Park. Through this program, thousands of books have been distributed to area children and youth. In 2017, RIF Chairman, Dionne Webster started the Black Girl Magic Book Club which took RIF to another dimension of success. During the pandemic of 2020-2021, the RIF Committee chaired by Soror Dionne introduced the virtual Black History Trivia Contest and gave books to participants. Our RIF Project was recognized by the City of Champaign, IL, in 2016 with a STAR Award (Service Together Achieves Results).
Focused African Americans With Class and Elegance (FAACES)
In the year 2001, Epsilon Epsilon Omega Chapter adopted a community program called FAACES (Focused African Americans With Class and Elegance). Chaired by Soror Kaamilyah Abdullah Span, this program was a mentoring program for area high school female students. Since its inception, many African American females have gone through the program and thought it was a worthwhile experience. FAACES evolved into our national signature program, Emerging Young Leaders (EYL) which was chaired by Soror Murial Bondurant Jones. EYL evolved into ASCEND (Achievement Self-Awareness, Communication, Engagement, Networking and Developmental Skills) which was chaired by Soror Nameka Bates in Champaign and Sorors Johnnie Carey Leola Davis and Alice Payne Co-Chairs in Danville. In 2018, ASCEND was replaced with our signature program #CAPSM which is short for College Admissions Process.
Educational Advancement Foundation (EAF)
Each year, Epsilon Epsilon Omega Chapter has met its commitment to our national Educational Advancement Foundation. In 2018, under the leadership of Chairman Desiree McMillion, our chapter generated funds to reach the EAF platinum level of giving for the first time in our chapter’s history by our chapter sorors. As a result of the dynamic fundraising efforts by our Chairman Desiree McMillion, Epsilon Epsilon Omega was recognized at the International Boule held in Houston, TX in 2018, at the Central Regional Conference in Indianapolis, IN, in 2019 and at the first virtual International Boule in Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated history in 2020 for our platinum level of giving. To date, we are well on our way to another year of platinum level of giving for 2021.
Connections and Social Justice
The Women of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated have a history of working to improve their communities and to address social justice issues. The sorority felt a growing sense of responsibility to participate in the government, to share in policy-making decisions that affected racial and religious minorities in their struggle to integrate. There was an equal sense that working collaboratively with other organizations, especially organizations with like goals, was imperative to moving forward in achieving goals of racial and social justice.
Historically, Epsilon Epsilon Omega as a chapter was not overtly involved in social justice activities. Individual members were involved in organized efforts to address disparities in the educational outcomes of African American students, but not representing the chapter. Many members of the chapter however, were educators who used various ways to address social inequities. One member in Epsilon Epsilon Omega Chapter decided to address the educational concern around reading through a chapter effort. Member Patricia McKinney-Lewis wrote a proposal to secure a partnership with the Reading is Fundamental/RIF Organization to provide books to low income students in 1979. The proposal was approved in 1980, and the first book distribution occurred in 1980. The chapter’s efforts to fight one impediment to social justice, illiteracy, continue 40 years later.
Under the leadership of Supreme Basileus Carolyn House Stewart and the adoption of the Connection Committee, chapters were asked to re-visit / visit each chapter’s involvement in the election and voting process and work to get citizens to the polls. All Central Region chapters were expected to participate in several regional efforts. Chapters were encouraged to participate in voter registration drives, help to educate citizenry about issues and the process, get citizens to the voting polls and attend AKA Day at the Capitol. In approximately 2011, under the leadership of President Murial Jones and Connection Chairman Nicole Anderson Cobb, Epsilon Epsilon Omega Chapter became more intentional about political action programming. The chapter engaged in programs and activities that satisfied regional expectations. Additionally, the chapter engaged in activities that highlighted societal issues.
- Attended the annual AKA Day at the Capitol (Springfield, IL), to include the years when the Chapter brought middle school girls who were enrolled in the Emerging Young Leaders/EYL Program, to the Capitol.
- Hosted/co-sponsored Voter Registration Drive
- Organized and participated in Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service activities.
- Ensured and provided rides to the polls for Danville senior citizens.
- Participated in Souls to the Polls events.
- Stimulated voters to engage in the voting process by providing educational materials and information door to door.
- Co-hosted a Presidential Watch-Party for the 2012 election.
- Participated in letter-writing campaigns, to include the EYL students making Thank You Posters for elected representatives (Senators Dick Durbin, Mark Kirk and Representative Tim Johnson) for their support of a bill for literacy funding.
- Hosted/co-sponsored two debates for candidates who were running for school board (in the Champaign and Danville School Boards).
- Co-sponsored and performed a public reading of the play, Tangled. Tangled is a play that addresses social issues around the problem of gun-violence. It was written by chapter member, Nicole Anderson Cobb, with most roles/characters played by sorority members or other Divine Nine members.
- Collaborated with other Divine Nine organizations to support a 40 Days of Non-Violence campaign. Each organization was responsible for hosting an event and supporting the events of others Epsilon Epsilon Omega sponsored an event called, “What Strategies Do You Use?” It was offered to the youth at a local community center. Based on the premise, an idle mind is the devil’s workshop, students were engaged in a dialogue about how they kept themselves busy during leisure times. Strategies and games were introduced to youth, ages 6 to 16, on how to keep their minds engaged and focused on positive activities. A RIF distribution was also conducted, allowing students to take at least one free book.
- Used social media to amplify the importance of voting and to vote on specific days.
Starting in 2015, under the leadership of President Jolynn Caroline and Connection Chairman Murial Jones, Epsilon Epsilon Omega’s Connection Committee took a more grassroots and collaborative approach to their non- partisan election efforts.
- Examined voting data to determine low voter turn-out precincts and targeted those precincts for intervention.
- The Connection Committee created “Pumps to the Pavement,” and formed small teams of Epsilon Epsilon Omega and community members to knock on doors of citizens in targeted precincts and share election information.
- Committee chairman visited local churches to share voting / election information. During those visits, opportunities to register to vote were available for unregistered citizens or citizens who needed to make changes to their personal data.
- Forged relationships with other community organizations (The League of Women Voters, Champaign County Clerk’s Office, Voter Connect and Voter Alliance of Champaign County) to share information and support each other are programming efforts.
In the fall of 2020, under the leadership of President Tia Butler and Connection Chairmen Murial Jones and Shayla Maatuka, the importance of amplifying the message of voting grew, and the chapter’s Connection and Social Action activities intensified.
- Partnered with a local church to provide educational sessions about voting issues affecting Champaign County.
- Collaborated with community organizations (League of Women Voters and Voter Alliance of Champaign County) to produce a year-long calendar of educational sessions (November 2019 - November 2020).
- Transitioned to virtual educational sessions once COVID-19 restricted in-person meetings.
- Spearheaded a collaboration between the Divine Nine organizations, NAACP, NCNW and the Lone Star Lodge (order of the Masons) to purchase advertising time on local billboards to stimulate citizens to vote in the November 2020 election. The final result was eight organizations, sharing the expense for two billboards that rotated the messages, “Vote” and “Your Vote, Your Voice.” The border of the billboards was outlined with the logos of the eight organizations.
- Designed and produced a yard sign to encourage/remind citizens to vote. Seventy-five yard signs were distributed and placed on the lawn of homes, businesses and churches throughout Champaign, Urbana, Savoy and Danville, Illinois, with the message, “Exercise Your Right to Vote on November 3, 2020 - Every Vote Counts."
- Used social media more extensively to further amplify the voting message:
- Weekly posts about election issues and topics on Facebook and Instagram.
- Collaborated with the local chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity to create a video about why voting was important. Epsilon Epsilon Omega and Alpha Phi Alpha members alternated on the compilation of clips, sharing why voting was important to each person. The final video showcased nine Epsilon Epsilon Omega sisters and eight Alpha Phi Alpha brothers, sharing their views.
- Partnered with members of the other Divine Nine sororities to create a Facebook post encouraging citizens to vote.
- Hosted two virtual watch parties: The Presidential Debate Watch Party (October 2020) and the Election Night Watch Party (Nov. 2020)
In 2021, the collaborations continue as does the programming efforts. The need for more grassroots work to engage those not interested or who do not agree with the importance of civic involvement or engagement continues. As Epsilon Epsilon Omega members continue the work of the Connection Committee to forge connections and relationships with other community organizations to reach the disenfranchised and inform citizens about voting issues, the need to increase intentional collaborations with Divine Nine organizations is a goal.
Since 2012, we have participated in the Relay for Life Cancer Walk during the summer. Epsilon Epsilon Omega Chapter has also participated in the Making Strides against Breast Cancer in the fall of each year since 2013. Chapter participation to raise funds and chapter involvement in the walks were organized by Soror JoAnn Archey.
St. Luke CME Church Food Pantry
Epsilon Epsilon Omega Chapter adopted the food pantry in 2012 and provided volunteers for the food pantry. Since 2014, the chapter has donated Thanksgiving food baskets through the in the St. Luke CME Church Food Pantry. Soror Diane Pye has spearheaded the Thanksgiving basket project for needy families in Champaign County through the food pantry each year since 2015. Each year, beautifully decorated Thanksgiving baskets have also been donated to Second Baptist Church in Danville. Over the years, Epsilon Epsilon Omega Chapter has enthusiastically provided volunteers to work in the food pantry.
Global assistance activities have included the collection of gently worn or new shoes under the Soles 4 Souls project. Our chapter has also donated pillow cases dresses and eye glasses to send to developing countries. Epsilon Epsilon Chapter collected disposable diapers and food for the Refugee Center in Champaign-Urbana during the spring of 2020.. Under the leadership of Soror Sammer Jones. Our chapter is in the process of establishing a relationship with an Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority chapter in Liberia, Africa, which is the birthplace of Soror Sammer Jones.