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HomeLocal NewsPoliticsBiden taps into Black community’s most powerful fraternities, Divine...

Biden taps into Black community’s most powerful fraternities, Divine Nine

Vice President Kamala Harris, center, speaks during a meeting with the Council of Presidents of the National Pan-Hellenic Council, also known as the “Divine Nine,” in her ceremonial office on the White House complex in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2021. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

To successfully enact new voting rights and police reform laws, President Joe Biden may need some divine intervention. But if he can’t get that, at least he’s working to get some help from the Divine Nine, a group of Black fraternities and sororities.

Formally known as the National Pan-Hellenic Council, the Divine Nine represents nine historically Black fraternities and sororities and their alumni. It is arguably the most powerful organization in the Black community. And, until now, they’ve largely been an untapped resource for administrations looking to connect with Black voters.

The Biden White House is trying to change that, intensifying its outreach to the group as it scrambles to reassure a crucial voting bloc that is growing increasingly unhappy with the lack of progress on its core issues.

US Vice President Kamala Harris: The Divine Nine boasts 2.5 million members worldwide, including some of the most influential and powerful Black people in the country and the Biden administration. That includes Vice President Kamala Harris, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia Fudge, and House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, a leading Biden ally in the Congress

The Divine Nine boasts 2.5 million members worldwide, including some of the most influential and powerful Black people in the country and the Biden administration. That includes Vice President Kamala Harris, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia Fudge, and House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, a leading Biden ally in the Congress.

Unlike many of their other fraternity and sorority counterparts, where participation typically ends with college graduation, the Divine Nine organizations tend to be a lifelong active commitment, with strong connections and influence in the Black community. And they are ready to bring an orchestra of “skee-wees,” “roos,” and “oo-oops” to the White House grounds.

“We’ve been at this for quite a while and have had people in so many seats on those political tables for years. And we know that that makes a huge difference in terms of making sure that your voice is significant in terms of what it could do,” said Beverly Smith, current National President of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated. “So, it’s the start of discussion with this administration, but it’s work the Divine Nine has been doing since its inception.”

“People should not underestimate the power of the Divine. And that is collectively and individually as fraternities and sororities,” Richmond said in an interview. “Their reach is long and their reach is deep. And so, for us, you don’t get that many organizations who affect such a broad swath of people.”

BuyAfriQue – factor in intra-Africa trade and exports – available on the Apple IOS and Google Play stores: “I think it just makes perfect sense to have them at the table, be able to communicate our accomplishments, yes, but I also hear from them on their priorities and other things,” Richmond added.

“I think it just makes perfect sense to have them at the table, be able to communicate our accomplishments, yes, but I also hear from them on their priorities and other things,” Richmond added.

Harris hosted an hour-long, in-person meeting with the Council of Presidents of the nine sororities and fraternities in her ceremonial office on Oct. 6 she requested — the first time all nine organizations have been invited to the White House to meet with a president or vice president, according to attendees and a White House official. Such a meeting didn’t even occur under the first Black president, Barack Obama.

The administration has also added a monthly meeting with Richmond just for the Divine Nine, in addition to a “Black stakeholders” call that already takes place every Friday at noon with the White House Office of Public Engagement.

The stepped-up outreach comes amid a surge in frustration among Black activists over Biden’s tenure. They have lost patience with the administration’s strategy of executive orders and speech-making and are demanding a more forceful response to Republicans’ blockade on policing, voting rights and other priority legislation, including pushing for a filibuster carveout. It’s a frustration that some members of the Divine Nine have been hearing and also share.

“I think the visibility of the effort and the push is most important. People will get frustrated and give up hope if they don’t see/hear what’s happening in the push significantly moving forward,” Smith said.

Smith hopes the increased contact with the administration will give the Divine Nine a way to tamp down some of that frustration with progress reports on issues like voting rights.

“[We can say] here’s the things that are happening. Here’s what has happened. Here’s the distance we’ve come already from X to X. [It] would help people understand the importance of what happened,” Smith added.

On voting rights, Divine Nine leaders know that a lot of the work is on Congress’ plate, but also believe that more public pressure from Biden would help the effort. And the president seems to be responding to criticism on that front.

LaTosha Brown, a political strategist and co-founder of Black Voters Matter, a voting rights advocacy group, says the administration has “allowed a lot of goodwill to dissipate” from the Black community because of a perceived lack of movement on key issues.

“We’re not just a tool to participate for them to get power. Our participation is literally driven by our own desire to have power,” Brown said. “So, if we’re going to lose power in supporting you, then … what’s the value in that?”

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