Community Voices

Black in Time: Zeta’s Finer Womanhood celebration recognizes 70 years of community service

From left, committee preparing for “Journey Through Decades” reception Sorors Lillie F. Harris, Arleace Carrion and Darlene T. Sparks.
From left, committee preparing for “Journey Through Decades” reception Sorors Lillie F. Harris, Arleace Carrion and Darlene T. Sparks.

Students of the Bible may equate the terms “threescore years and ten, 70 years old, 3x20+10,” with the age of decline. On the contrary, members of Beta Tau Zeta Chapter, Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, are preparing for the chapter’s 70th anniversary with vitality and newness; and anticipating the organization’s promising future.

Under the leadership of chapter President Lois Lee, Beta Tau Zeta will hold its 70th annual Finer Womanhood Community Fellowship Awards Luncheon on March 12 at the InterContinental at Doral Miami. The luncheon theme is shared with the 2016 National Women’s History Month observance, “Women Working to Form a More Perfect Union: Honoring Women in Public Service and Government.” The event will begin with a “Journey Through the Decades” reception at 11 a.m. followed by the luncheon. Ticket information is available at http://hrld.us/1T7JRpU.

This awards luncheon and program will recognize and honor the work of seven Miami-Dade women: Miami Gardens Councilwoman Lisa Davis; Kalyn James, donor relations manager at Adrienne Arsht Center for Performing Arts; Teri Williams, president and COO of One United Bank; Julie Mansfield, author, editor and founder of Give Me Dignity Foundation; retired Miami police Maj. Juanita Walker, founder of Sheyes of Miami Learning Center; Valtena G. Brown, deputy superintendent/chief operating officer of school operations at Miami-Dade County Public Schools; and Margie Lee, AARP Miami-Dade field coordinator. The chapter will also recognize its 2016 Zeta of the Year, Felicia Greggs-McRae. She embodies the ideals of the sorority: scholarship, service, sisterhood and finer womanhood.

The luncheon speaker, Cynthia Parker White, is an experienced educator and accomplished author. The St. Petersburg native earned certification and degrees in school counseling and leadership, and a doctorate in education. After more than 35 years in education, she recently retired as a school counselor.

One of her books, Healing for My Hurt: A Journey to Wholeness/Finding My Father, Finding My Self, was named a 2010 finalist in the Next Generation Indie Book Awards in the Women’s Issues Category. It chronicles her lifelong search to find her biological father.

A 20-year member of Zeta Phi Beta, White wrote the book a year after she joined the sorority. In a recent interview she said, “It helped to have women in my life with whom I could share both my hurt and frustration over not being able to find and connect with my father.”

For White, as a sorority member and this year’s speaker, the Finer Womanhood luncheon has special significance. In elementary and middle school, she was mentored by teachers who belonged to Zeta Phi Beta Sorority. She admired and wanted to emulate their “Finer Womanhood” qualities, such as standing above the crowd, possessing high moral standards and exemplifying character above reproach.

White later learned that Zeta Phi Beta Sorority was organized by five black college women on Jan. 16, 1920, in Washington, D.C., on the campus of Howard University.

The group envisioned a sorority that would effect positive change, chart a course of action for the 1920s and beyond, raise consciousness of their people, encourage the highest standards of scholastic achievement and foster a greater sense of unity among its members. Chapters were later organized throughout the United States and one in West Africa.

Coeds Arizona Cleaver Stemons, Myrtle Tyler Faithful, Viola Tyler Goings, Fannie Pettie Watts and Pearl Anna Neal began Finer Womanhood Week in 1923. Decades later, the annual event expanded to Finer Womanhood Month. It is observed the last full week in February and continues throughout the month of March.

Guided by Zeta’s international president, Mary Breaux Wright, each chapter plans programs that include a religious service, and a week emphasizing the standards, morals, customs and recognition of women of achievement.

The “Finer Womanhood” brand is unique to the Zeta sorority. It does not appear that the organizers were looking for the phrase to show perfection in themselves and others. Instead it is intended to capture the principles outlined in 1925 by sorority member Evelyn Foster in her description of a “finer woman” — one who is faithful to duty, ideal to womanhood, noble in character, engaging in manner and responsible to trust. It is this ideal that members pledge to strive for everyday.

Miami-Dade County’s first Zeta chapter, Beta Tau, was established Feb. 24, 1946. Chapter organizers were 12 college-educated, community-conscious and action-oriented women: Ethel Braynon Manning, Eugenia Brooks Thomas, Glendena Carey-Edwards, Alma Lucille Crawford, Ireta M. Crosby, Wilhelmenia Paige, Lovely Finlayson Houston, Ellen Styles, Pauline Styles Willis, Theodora Carey Williams, Corinthia Wilson and Dorothy J. McKellar, my mother.

In our home, the phrase “Finer Womanhood” was spoken daily, as a reminder of how young ladies were expected to “carry themselves at all times.” It was understood that I would join this chapter, and I did with pride.

There have been many changes over the decades. With fresh and new ideas, President Lois Lee and the executive board are optimistic about the chapter’s future. Current projects include mentoring girls ages 4 to 18, and in collaboration with the March of Dimes the chapter offers its signature Stork’s Nest program, and a prenatal program for low-income pregnant teens.

In conjunction with the sorority’s national agenda, projects include elder care services at senior-care facilities; Adopt-A-School assistance at Dorothy M. Wallace C.O.P.E. Center; pre-maturity awareness, distribution of prenatal care information; and Get Engaged, a collaboration with the NAACP and the A. Philip Randolph Institute.

The service of Beta Tau Zeta Chapter to Miami-Dade is growing year by year. The chapter looks forward to the future by offering expanded programs and services to local agencies at the Zeta Community Center, a community resource. Looking to the years ahead, Finer Womanhood will continue to represent commitment, discipline, integrity, strength and a call to service.

Dorothy Jenkins Fields, PhD, is a historian and founder of the Black Archives, History and Research Foundation of South Florida Inc. Send feedback to djf@bellsouth.net.

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