‘Twenty Pearls’ AKA Documentary Shows the Vision and Impact of Black College WomenBy Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D. / NNPA / April 1, 2021
Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated is the nation’s first sorority for Black college women. Founded on the campus of Howard University in 1908, nine visionary women created a sisterhood committed to serving the African American community and elevating issues impacting women and girls. Forty-five years following emancipation and in the face of great racial and gender discrimination, these young women decided to become the change they wanted to see, creating an influential sisterhood and legacy that is culturally relevant today.
Critically acclaimed documentary filmmaker Deborah Riley Draper brings the complex story of the nation’s first Black Greek Letter sorority to the forefront in the documentary, Twenty Pearls: The Story of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.
Comcast’s Black Experience on Xfinity. This is the first original film for the media company’s Black content hub. The Black Experience is led by Keesha Boyd, executive director for multicultural video and entertainment at Comcast NBCUniversal.
Produced by Coffee Bluff Pictures, Deborah Riley Draper’s production company, Twenty Pearls takes viewers on a journey into the lives of Black women creating change at a critical moment in American history. Draper, an award-winning documentarian who is also a member of the sorority, takes pleasure in being able to tell this universal story about the women who founded an organization that is still making change today.
“The reach of Alpha Kappa Alpha into American society is at every level,” says the NAACP Image Award nominee. “When you get a mammogram, get a scholarship to further your education, attend an HBCU among many other good things, the women of Alpha Kappa Alpha have had something to do with it,” says Draper, who pledged the sorority as an undergraduate at Florida State University. Draper considers it a privilege to make this documentary. “It’s an honor to elevate the stories of Black women who have influenced American society using the tools I know and love.
“I chose to tell this story because it is an important story about this country,” says Draper. “In this documentary, we see the evidence of the 113 years of the impact of AKA in all aspects of American life and that is a story that needs to be told.”
The timing is right as America is in the midst of a contemporary civil rights movement that saw the rise of the nation’s first Black and South Asian woman to the Vice-Presidency, Kamala Harris, a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. who pledged as an undergraduate at Howard University.
Executive Producer and Alpha Kappa Alpha member Kimberly Esmond Adams believes anytime is the right time to tell this type of American story. “This story talks about the role that a group of college women, who were still finding their way in the world, yet were intelligent enough to understand that the world was bigger than them and they could do something concrete to make it better for everyone. In many ways, the story is universal because any number of groups can relate to that challenge,” adds Adams. “This film teaches you about American history, the significance of the entire Divine Nine [historically Black fraternities and sororities] and HBCUs, the importance of community, the oneness of purpose and how you can leverage these connections to make life better for everyone.”
Narrated by Tony award-winning actress and Alpha Kappa Alpha member Phylicia Rashad, Twenty Pearls tells the story of this trailblazing organization founded to serve and uplift the African American community through narration, interviews and archival assets. The first feature-length documentary on an African American sorority shows viewers the impact of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. on the Harlem Renaissance, World War II, NASA, Civil Rights, Women’s Rights and HBCU endowments. Interviews include Alpha Kappa Alpha International President and CEO Dr. Glenda Glover, Vice President Kamala Harris, Miss Universe Ireland 2019 Fionnghuala O’Reilly, Smithsonian Secretary Lonnie Bunch III, Anna Eleanor Roosevelt Fierst and many more.
The coming together of the film was “fortuitous,” says Adams, who pledged as an undergraduate at Howard University. She remembers having a conversation with Dr. Glenda Glover, the national president of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. and current president of Tennessee State University, an HBCU in Nashville, about wanting to make a film that memorialized the importance of the sorority and HBCUs. “Thankfully we have a president who is a visionary and planted the seed for this project to tell our story and the story of HBCUs,” says Adams. Shortly thereafter, Adams was invited to attend a short film screening at BronzeLens film festival in Atlanta and was so moved by the film, she talked with the director afterwards. The director was Deborah Riley Draper. The rest you can say is history. “This film started with a seed planted by Dr. Glover. To see something go from an idea and crystallize into a film that is going to be distributed on every platform in the country is amazing. We made a movie,” chuckles Adams.
“Until we learn to embrace the contributions that all of us have brought to this nation, we’ll never realize the fullness of who we can be as a country.”
Twenty Pearls is now airing nationwide On Demand on all other cable systems. Check local cable guide for channel information. To learn more about “Twenty Pearls,” visit www.aka1908.com.
Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D. is founder & editor-in-chief of The Burton Wire. Dr. Burton is a life member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated and appears in the documentary “Twenty Pearls: The Story of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.”