The Distinguished Women of Alpha Kappa Alpha

Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated had its humble beginnings as the vision of nine college students on the campus of Howard University in 1908. Since then, the sorority has flourished into a globally-impactful organization of over 283,000 college-trained members, bound by the bonds of sisterhood and empowered by a commitment to servant-leadership that is both domestic and international in its scope. 

The Shadow League is about more than simply Sports and Entertainment, because those two elements intersect with every segment of society. So today, in honor of the dynamic sorority’s founder’s day, we honor some of the best and brightest women who are at the forefront of effective advocacy and social change that results in equality and equity for all citizens of the world.  

There is an amazing group of honorary AKA’s that includes the likes of Jada Pinkett-Smith, Maya Angelou, Ntozake Shange, Alice Walker, Iyanla Vanzant, Julie Dash, Ella Fitzgerald, Alicia Keys, Gladys Knight, Coretta Scott King, Rosa Parks, C. Delores Tucker, Suzanne de Passe, Catherine Hughes, Mae Jemison, Dr. Wangari Muta Maathai, Eleanor Roosevelt, Zina Garrison and C. Vivian Stringer. 

But our list focuses on the women who pledged an undergraduate or a graduate chapter. 

LORETTA DEVINE – Devine graduated from the University of Houston in 1971 with a Bachelor of Arts in Speech and Drama and Brandeis University in 1976 with a MFA in Theater. She appeared in films such Waiting to Exhale, The Preacher’s Wife, I Am Sam, Urban Legend, Crash, Woman Thou Art Loosed, For Colored Girls, This Christmas and Jumping the Broom.

Her television work includes roles as Marla Hendricks in the Fox drama series Boston Public, and for her recurring role as Adele Webber on Shonda Rhimes’ Grey’s Anatomy, for which she won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series in 2011. 

PHYLICIA RASHAD – Rashad studied at Howard University and graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor’s Degree of Fine Arts in 1970.  Best known for her role as Clair Huxtable on the The Cosby Show, Rashad was the the affirmation of African-American poise, beauty and intelligence during the show’s grip on American consciousness from 1984 through 1992.

She was the first African-American actress to win the Best Actress Tony Award, which she won for her 2004 performance in Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun. She most recetly played the widowed wife of former fictional heavyweight champion Apollo Creed in the latest installment of the Rocky movie franchise, Creed.

ROXIE ROKER – Roker is best known for her role as Helen Willis, half of the first interracial couple to be shown on American prime time television in 1975. After growing up in Brooklyn, New York, Roker, who is the mother of singer Lenny Kravitz, attended Howard University.

She was a reporter on WNEW-TV in New York in the 1970s and hosted a public affairs show for the station known as Inside Bed-Stuy, dealing with events in the Brooklyn neighborhood. A cousin of The Today Show’s Al Roker, she passed away from breast cancer in 1995. 

WANDA SYKES – Sykes earned an Emmy Award in 1999 for her writing on The Chris Rock Show and her recurring appearances as herself on HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm were beyond hilarious.

Speaking of hilarious, she starred in Pootie Tang, one of the most criminally underappreciated comedies of all time. Whah Dah Tao! She earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Marketing from Hampton University. Comedy Central has ranked her among the top 100 Stand Up comedians of all time.

EDWIDGE DANTICAT – Born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Danticat grew up in Brooklyn, New York and graduated from the prestigious Barnard College with a Bachelor’s of Arts in French Literature. She later received a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Brown University in 1993.

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Her Master’s thesis, entitled “My turn in the fire an abridged novel”,was the basis for her acclaimed novel Breath, Eyes, Memory. The author of 15 books, she has an Honorary Degree from Yale and was awarded the MacArthur Fellows Program Genius Grant in 2009.

TONI MORRISON -A Professor Emeritus at Princeton University, Morrison has received the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Pulitzer Prize and the American Book Award in 1988 for Beloved and the Nobel Prize in 1993. 

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Her other seminal works include The Bluest Eye, Sula  and my personal favorite, Song of Solomon. Morrison graduated from Howard University with a B.A. in English and later received her Master’s from Cornell University. 

SONIA SANCHEZ – Born in Birmingham, Alabama, Sanchez moved to Harlem when she was nine years old. She received a B.A. in Political Science from Hunter College and went on to complete her postgraduate studies in Poetry at New York University. The author of over a dozen books of poetry, as well as short stories, critical essays, plays, and children’s books, she has  taught as a professor at eight universities and has lectured at over 500 college campuses across the United States.

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She advocated the introduction of Black Studies courses in California and was the first to create and teach a course based on Black Women and literature in the United States. She is currently a poet-in-residence at Temple University. 

DR. CASSANDRA WILSON – A two-time Grammy Award winner, Wilson is a jazz musician, vocalist, songwriter, and producer. She graduated with a degree in mass communications from Jackson State University and later received her Ph.D in Arts from Millsaps College.  

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Her 1996 album New Moon Daughter won the Grammy for Best Jazz Vocal Performance. In 1997, she recorded and toured as a featured vocalist with Wynton Marsalis’ Pulitzer Prize winning composition, Blood on the Fields.

STAR JONES – Jones wears many hats. She’s a lawyer, journalist, writer, television personality, fashion designer and women’s and diversity advocate. She grew up in Trenton, New Jersey and earned a B.A. degree in Administration of Justice at American University.

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She went on to earn her Juris Doctorate from the University of Houston Law Center in 1986, and was admitted to the New York state bar in 1987. She is most popularly known as one of the original co-hosts of the televison show, The View.

DR. PATRICIA BATH – A Harlem native, Bath received her Bachelor of Arts in chemistry from Manhattan’s Hunter College and went on to attend the Howard University College of Medicine.

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The first African-American woman doctor to receive a patent for a medical purpose, she owns four patents and also founded the American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness in Washington, D.C. She was the first African-American Resident in Ophthalmology at New York University and the first African-American woman to have ever served on staff as a surgeon at the UCLA Medical Center.

DR. DOROTHY FEREBEE – A physician and activist, Ferebee graduated from Simmons College in Boston, Massachusetts, and Tufts University Medical School.

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In addition to being the longtime Director of Health Services at Howard University Medical School, she was the first Medical Director for the Mississippi Health Project, which has been cited by Thomas J. Ward, Jr., in his book, Black Physicians in the Jim Crow South, as “…one the most impressive examples of voluntary public health work ever conducted by black physicians in the Jim Crow South, touching thousands of black Mississippians at a time when they had virtually no access to professional medical care.”

SHARON PRATT – The Mayor of Washington, D.C. from 1991-1995, she was the first African-American woman to serve as mayor of a major American city.

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A product of DC public schools, she received a  B.A. in political science from Howard University and later earned her Juris Doctorate from the Howard University School of Law. 

LUCY DIGGS SLOWE – One of the original founders of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority at Howard University in 1908, she was appointed the first Dean of Women at Howard in 1922.

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The first African-American woman to win a major sports championship, she won the national title of the American Tennis Association’s first tournament in 1917.

ALTHEA GIBSON –  A graduate of Florida A&M University, Gibson is one of the most important, accomplished and impactful African-American athletes in the history of sport.  A true trailblazer, she was the first black athlete to cross the color line of international tennis. Winning the French Open in 1956,  she became the first person of color to win a Grand Slam title.

She won 11 Grand Slam tournaments, including six doubles titles, and is widely regarded to be among the very best players ever alongside Serena Williams, Steffi Graf and Martina Navratilova. She is on par with Jackie Robinson in terms of challenging racism, ignorance, prejudice and stereotypes through her athletic prowess, integrity, composure and intelligence.  


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