Paradise Lost?

I love visiting my cousin Melinda, who is my aunt Mary’s daughter. Whenever I’m in her large, beautifully decorated home, in her upscale neighborhood, I come into contact with one or several of her many amazing and accomplished friends. It’s like being in the company of America’s black glitterati, with their advanced degrees, impressive jobs at Fortune 500 firms and connections to people who might rule the world one day. I’m sure they work so hard and face down so much in the way of office political b.s. that don’t feel so high and mighty, similar to how everyday millionaires accumulate wealth through diligent financial planning and by avoiding extravagant spending. Never mind the humility—another reason I like Melinda’s friends: they don’t name drop—her friends are the kind of people who often make me feel good about having to go into work everyday and, seemingly, work really hard and face down a lot of crap just to get noticed. If I can manage to keep abreast with them in conversation and have homes almost as nice as theirs, without trying to imitate the Joneses, I will feel like I’ve gotten somewhere.
So I took special interest in one of her friends, Angela, who is a Delta Sigma Theta soror. In everyday parlance, she’s ‘a Delta’. Angela started explaining that one of the higher-ranking black executives at her company got wind of the fact that she is a Delta, and because he is a member of the Delta’s unofficial brothering fraternity, Omega Psi Phi, he took notice of her. He shows a lot of professional interest in her, throwing projects her way, whether or not they fall into her domain. At one point, she sighed, seeming weary of the new workload. Secretly, I was jealous, because at least she had a well-connected comrade looking out for her best professional interests. I have one black woman who is a senior-level editor in my company, who I turn to for advice from time to time. But I do not think that is enough.

NetworkingWhen I was a college freshman or sophomore, I almost pledged Delta Sigma Theta, thinking it would be a great way to get more out of college life. I went to a couple of pre-rush meetings, met the young women who were supposed to be my ‘line sisters’, learned the Greek alphabet, memorized the list of founding sorors and even got a pledge name. But the $600-plus membership fee in the first year, stopped my progress cold. There was no way I could have coughed up that much money by the end of my pledge process,or justified doing so to my very pragmatic mother, a first-generation immigrant. Further, a family friend and mentor discouraged me from pledging. She worked in my college’s financial aid office (I was always grateful that I never needed to spend a lot of time in that place, with its bad yellowish lighting and utilitarian furniture), where I would visit her and talk about whatever was going on with me in my classes and among my peers. So I never pledged any black sororities. I cannot say that I bitterly regret skipping the pledging process, but there are times when I wonder whether I made a mistake. Like whenever I run into my old high school vice principal for instance. I’ve come across Ms. Lennox in a range situations, from Alvin Ailey performances to supermarket aisles, and for a while, she always seemed to be more advanced in her career than the last time I saw her. When we part, I begin to wonder whether I should have gone through with Delta sisterhood, because it might have brought me into closer contact with more high-profile professionals.

Maybe one day I’ll accumulate enough professional contacts to compensate for never having an undergraduate sorority membership. Or maybe it won’t matter at all, and I’ll figure out other ways to be perfectly satisfied with my life.

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