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Sorority Silent On President's Alleged Misdeeds

Several members of the nation's oldest black sorority have filed a lawsuit alleging the national leadership of Alpha Kappa Alpha is grossly misspending the organization's money.

Many AKA members refuse to talk about the lawsuit, saying they fear being blacklisted. In fact, all of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit found themselves suspended from the sorority, which was founded in 1908 at Howard University and now has more than 250,000 members around the world.

Jewelry, Lingerie And Designer Clothing

Among the allegations in the lawsuit are that President Barbara McKinzie solicited a $375,000 salary for what has historically been an unpaid position; that she used an AKA credit card for jewelry, lingerie and designer clothing; and that she took out a $1 million life insurance policy.

Ed Gray is representing the plaintiffs, who want the money returned to the sorority's coffers.

"Over the years they have been trying to share their concerns and get them considered," says Gray. "There's been a surprising lack of response from the leadership."

Alpha Kappa Alpha officials declined to be interviewed for this story, but in a statement from the Chicago headquarters, McKinzie said the allegations raised in the lawsuit are "without merit."

Public Support, Private Grievances

As she sits in an outdoor coffee shop, AKA member Ricquel Harper says the lawsuit is upsetting.

"I'm going to stand by my president no matter what," says Harper. "She didn't do anything wrong, because I know the business of our sorority."

Alfrances Sharpe, a member of AKA for 51 years, is also refraining from criticism. On the dining room table in her Chicago apartment is a copy of the sorority's magazine, Ivy Leaf. She says she is trying to stay out of the "she said, she said" fray.

"Let the courts handle it and then let us hear what happened," Sharpe says of her approach.

Few members are publicly speaking out against McKinzie. But while they may be tight-lipped to the outside world, the precursor to the lawsuit is a Web site called Friends Of The Weeping Ivy, where AKA members anonymously express their grievances with sorority governance. Lawyers for the sorority recently warned that the site violates the group's code of sisterly conduct.

Arthur Hoge is an Oklahoma attorney who specializes in fraternity and sorority law. He says the devotion members have toward their organizations can sometimes cloud their judgment.

"People are very tied to them from an emotional standpoint," says Hoge. "If you're doing something different than what you've done before, sometimes emotions can come into it."

Alpha Kappa Alpha officials say they are now in the process of drafting a response to the lawsuit.

Natalie Moore is a reporter for Chicago Public Radio.

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