Zeta Phi Beta and Phi Beta Sigma commemorate 50 years at Kent State


Morgan McGrath

Members of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority Inc. and Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity Inc. dine at the Kent State Student Center on Saturday, April 23, 2022 during the commemoration of the organizations’ founding.

Morgan McGrath, Reporter

“I just can’t believe that the time has flown so fast,” said Oretha Carpenter, one of the Zeta Phi Beta founders at Kent State.

In 1969, as a Kent State freshman studying education, a young Carpenter became interested in campus sororities and fraternities.

The 19 year old realized she wanted to be part of university life, but she wasn’t particularly interested in any of the previously existing sororities.

Oretha Carpenter speaks at the 50th celebration for the founding of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority Inc. and Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity Inc. on Saturday, April 23, 2022.

Wanting something more, Carpenter decided to introduce a new organization to Kent State.

“I and a few more of my friends decided to start Zeta Phi Beta, so we had to do a lot of work to get Zeta Phi Betas to come down to Kent State…it was not easy,” she said.

With the support of a faculty advisor Alice Silvich, along with Hester Shoto, who was part of the graduate chapter of Gamma Delta Zeta in Cleveland, Carpenter and her friends began Zeta Phi Beta as an interest group. Eventually, it became an official sorority.

The faculty member also introduced Phi Beta Sigma, a fraternity, to the university, and these two groups are unique for being constitutionally bound.

In other words, the sorority and fraternity are closely intertwined, and they celebrate Founders’ Day together, as well as other connected activities.

“We call it our blue and white family,” Carpenter said. “Not just the Zetas, but the Phi Beta brothers, too.”

Historically, Zeta Phi Beta is a predominantly Black organization. The first chapter was founded  at Howard University back in 1920 by five African American women.

Today, the sorority includes more than 125,000 members across the country, and it wouldn’t have been possible at Kent State without Carpenter and her sorority sisters.

“We were so excited about our dream of starting Zetas on campus,” Carpenter said. “And when I look back, I’m just so surprised, I’m shocked, that we did so much.”

Carpenter was the president of Zeta Phi Beta until her senior year in 1973, and during this time, the sorority was actively involved in the Kent community.

They would often volunteer to help tutor students, and according to Carpenter, her sorority was also a major component in the introduction of Black United Students to the campus.

Introducing a predominantly Black organization was a large step for the university, especially toward the end of the American civil rights movement, Carpenter said.

50 years later, the historic Zeta Phi Beta and Phi Beta Sigma Greek organizations celebrated their monumental anniversary with a weekend full of activities at Kent State.

Members of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority Inc. and Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity Inc. dine at the Kent State Student Center on Saturday, April 23, 2022 during the commemoration of the organizations’ founding. (Morgan McGrath)

Members of both organizations joined together Saturday on the third floor of the Student Center for food, music, dancing and celebration.

The night began around 6 p.m., where alumni were given a meal including chicken, bread and various vegetables.

The banquet room itself was full of circular tables dressed in navy table cloths, and blue-colored lights lined the walls in celebratory fashion.

Steve Harris, a Kent State alumni and member of Phi Beta Sigma, is best known for his work in broadcast media. He hosted the event all night while introducing speakers and making jokes between speeches.

Harris said he flew from California to Ohio with his wife and baby daughter.

“I had to do all that I had to do to make sure that we were here for the 50 year anniversary,” he said. “This is one of my career honors to host tonight’s program.”

Following Harris’ introduction, brief speeches were given by fellow alumni of Kent State and the sorority and fraternity.

Some of the presenters included Jerome and Joyce Davidson, Ernestine Baker Hall, Aaron Turpin, Richard Williams and Marlon Dickson, who were all once involved in their respective organizations.

The event also included short video presentations from the International President of Phi Beta Sigma Chris V. Rey, as well as a slideshow honoring late members of the organizations.

Around 9 p.m., a keynote speech was presented by Carpenter herself.

Carpenter, often referred to as “Tootsie,” stood smiling at the podium dressed in a royal blue dress and white, glossy pearls, representing the Zeta Phi Beta colors.

“If we don’t tell our story, no one else will, and our history will be long and forgotten,” she said. “A 50th anniversary is golden, and everything that has to do with gold carries weight.”

She explained how 50 years is worth celebrating, and she began talking about historic American events during 1971, including the landing of Apollo 13 and the first ever Starbucks grand opening.

She also said nothing was more exciting than the introduction of Zeta Phi Beta to Kent State’s campus, noting its historic significance at the university.

“We were filled with tears of joy. We were filled with happiness and a feeling of sisterhood and love,” said Carpenter.

As she spoke, a song written by her fellow sorority sister “Vinni” O’Neal, titled, “Women of Zeta,” played aloud.

Carpenter spoke highly of making “footprints” of sorority and brotherhood, civil rights and love, amongst other things, both on and off campus.

“As we continue our journey, remember your journey is what makes the difference,” Carpenter said to conclude her speech. “It’s not just about the 50 years, but it’s about everything you’ve done in between those years.”

Following Carpenter’s speech, awards were given to sorority sisters and fraternity brothers, and a proclamation from the mayor of Cleveland, Justin Bibb, was also read out loud.

The night ended with a prayer and a toast, followed by a commemorative sheet cake, music and dancing.

Morgan McGrath is a reporter. Contact her at [email protected]