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MEAC/SWAC Football Challenge

Divine Nine members unite for Celebration of Service during MEAC/SWAC Challenge weekend

Painting project at Atlanta school brings black Greek-letter organizations together

For the first time in the MEAC/SWAC Challenge’s 14-year history, members of black Greek-letter organizations, better known as the Divine Nine, united for the weekend’s first Celebration of Service, a showcase of service created to highlight the contributions and impact that the Divine Nine are making while helping the community.

This year, the Divine Nine partnered with the Atlanta-based nonprofit organization Learning in Color to promote a more stimulating learning environment by painting classrooms at The B.E.S.T. Academy and the Coretta Scott King Young Women’s Leadership Academy in Atlanta.

At least 40 volunteers, most donning the Greek letters of their respective organizations, came out to support the two-day event, including SportsCenter anchor Jay Harris, a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc., and ESPN college sports play-by-play commentator Tiffany Greene, a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc.

“I thought it was an excellent launch,” said John Grant, executive director of the MEAC/SWAC Challenge and Celebration Bowl. “It was great that we had Jay Harris and Tiffany Greene involved because it reflects that black Greek-letter organization members are in industries and positions of leadership across the country. The difference that [this project] made for the school and for kids is what’s pleasing to us. To be able to come into areas that have been newly painted and refreshed makes a difference to the learning environment. I thought that was exceptional.”

Omega Psi Phi member Aaron Richards, from Stone Mountain, Georgia, paints in a classroom at the B.E.S.T. Academy.

Photo by John X. Miller

The significance, extent and impact of service by the Divine Nine and their members will be the cornerstone of this annual initiative, focusing on changing the narrative and educating the country about the scope and work of the organizations’ members.

The first service project began Aug. 31 with volunteers gathering at the academies for a 9 a.m. start and working throughout the afternoon. The next day, fresh faces along with those who’d helped the day before showed up for another day’s work. Through teamwork and diligence, the project was completed four hours earlier than anticipated.

“The project is really meant to affect lives for generations,” said Tony Alexander, a volunteer and member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity Inc. “The reason we’re doing this is because research has shown children learn better and more effectively in color-rich environments.”

Paint, painting materials and supplies were all donated by various companies throughout the area. The colors, which consisted of bright yellows, soothing blues and a mint green, were strategically chosen.

“There’s a difference between painting an elementary school versus a middle school and high school,” said Carol Bowman, founder of Learning in Color. “In an elementary school, we want to use more vibrant and brighter colors because they draw students in.”

According to a 2013 review, The Influence of Color on Memory Performance, “Color is believed to be the most important visual experience to human beings. It functions as a powerful information channel to the human cognitive system and has been found to play a significant role in enhancing memory performance. … In the educational setting, higher demand is put on excellent academic achievement. The extent to which students utilize their cognitive abilities is also important and may contribute to better academic achievement. The cognitive abilities of the students refer to the way the students perceive, pay attention, remember, think, and understand the lessons. There need to be strategies to facilitate the learning process and colors can play a role in motivating students to learn and profit from their educational experiences.”

It’s one of the reasons Bowman began her quest to establish the nonprofit organization four years ago.

In 2014, Bowman, an educator of more than 20 years, looked around her classroom and felt it needed change. According to Bowman, the paint in the learning space had chipped and peeled. Once-secured baseboards were now warping, misshapen from their previous positions.

“I asked the principal and he said facility comes in over the summer and paints,” Bowman said. “He said there wasn’t money in the budget to do individual rooms, but they’ll come and touch up common areas like hallways and the cafeteria.”

Tyce Logan, of Atlanta, and Sigma Gamma Rho sorority, joined the volunteer crew at B.E.S.T. Academy in Atlanta.

Photo by John X. Miller

The principal gave Bowman permission to paint her room the way she preferred. Although she could paint and style her room the way she wanted, Bowman didn’t know how.

“I don’t know how to paint,” Bowman said. “I don’t even paint my nails. But one conversation led to another, and I found a contractor who told me if I bought all the paint and materials and picked out what I wanted, he’d paint it.”

Immediately, Bowman said, the idea crossed her mind that this didn’t have to stop at one classroom. Bowman believed that a charitable organization where businesses could partner with teachers who want to get their classrooms painted would not only benefit teachers but also, through a change of scenery, promote a better learning environment for students.

The Celebration of Service partnership was the first big project for Bowman and Learning in Color, and, it is hoped, not the last.

“I want to gather the data,” Bowman said. “Yes, we know that color has an impact on learning and brain function, but I really want to gather the hard data to say, ‘OK, this is where the students were performing and this is the impact of being educated in a colorful environment.’ Those numbers are definitely going to make a difference.”

The Divine Nine will continue to work on several other initiatives throughout the year to help communities in Atlanta and surrounding areas. Other projects are planned at the Magic City Classic in Birmingham, Alabama; the Jackson State-Alabama State game in Montgomery, Alabama; and the Florida Classic between Florida A&M and Bethune-Cookman.

A final Celebration of Service for the year will be held in conjunction with the Celebration Bowl on Dec. 15, at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium. At the game, fans will be asked to bring canned goods for collection and donation to the Hosea Helps organization.

Maya Jones is an associate editor at The Undefeated. She is a native New Orleanian who enjoys long walks down Frenchmen Street and romantic dates to Saints games.