The Biden administration is reaching out to a group of historically black fraternities and sororities in order to shore up support for voting rights and police reform legislation, Politico reported Tuesday.
The outlet noted that the White House is tapping into the “Divine Nine,” formally called the National Pan-Hellenic Council, which “is arguably the most powerful organization in the black community.”
Up to now, the organization has not been sought out by administrations that have black community outreach, Politico reported, adding that the Biden administration is attempting to change that by “intensifying its outreach to the group as it scrambles to reassure a crucial voting bloc that is growing increasingly unhappy with the lack of progress on its core issues.”
The organization has around 2.5 million members around the world, including several of the most influential blacks within the Biden administration and the country as a whole. Among administration members are Vice President Kamala Harris and former U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, now head of the Office of Public Engagement. Also, House Majority Whip James Clyburn of South Carolina is a member as well — and a top ally of Biden in Congress.
“Unlike many of their other fraternity and sorority counterparts, where participation typically ends with college graduation, the Divine Nine organizations tend to be a lifelong active commitment, with strong connections and influence in the black community,” Politico reported.
“We’ve been at this for quite a while and have had people in so many seats on those political tables for years. And we know that that makes a huge difference in terms of making sure that your voice is significant in terms of what it could do,” Beverly Smith, the current National President of Delta Sigma Theta, Incorporated, told the outlet.
“So it’s the start of discussion with this administration, but it’s work the Divine Nine has been doing since its inception,” she added.
The White House believes that the Divine Nine is a valuable resource of information to and from members, which is why the administration is turning to the group as Biden’s agenda stalls in Congress.
“People should not underestimate the power of the Divine. And that is collectively and individually as fraternities and sororities,” Richmond told Politico. “Their reach is long and their reach is deep. And so for us, you don’t get that many organizations who affect such a broad swath of people.”
He added: “I think it just makes perfect sense to have them at the table, be able to communicate our accomplishments, yes, but I also hear from them on their priorities and other things.”
On Oct. 6, Harris hosted an hour-long meeting with the Council of Presidents of all nine fraternities and sororities representing the Divine Nine. It was the first time all of them have come together for a meeting in the White House with a president or vice president. Also, the administration schedules a monthly meeting with Richmond just for Divine Nine representatives while other “black stakeholders” hold a weekly Friday call with Richmond and the White House Office of Public Engagement.
The increased engagement with the group comes as frustration grows among black Democratic supporters after Biden and his majority party in Congress have been unable to move legislation deemed important to the black community.
LaTosha Brown, co-founder of Black Voters Matter, told Politico that the administration has “allowed a lot of goodwill to dissipate” from within the black community after being unable to move forward on promised legislation.
“We’re not just a tool to participate for them to get power. Our participation is literally driven by our own desire to have power,” Brown said. “So if we’re going to lose power in supporting you, then … what’s the value in that?”
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