On April 10, 1992, Rebecca Sewell-Cummings made history. The junior accounting major “crossed the line” and became the first member inducted into the University’s first black sorority. Although she was the shortest of the 10 inductees, her petite stature belied her abilities. She was a mighty dynamo committed to starting the Delta Sigma Theta chapter on campus, and she lived her life with the same intensity—always giving, always finding time for others.
Following graduation in 1993, Sewell worked her way up the career ladder in the accounting field. She volunteered in her community, served in the U.S. Army Reserves, married her college sweetheart and started a family with him.
Earlier this year, though, the intensity came to an end. Her life was cut short during the birth of her second child. With her husband, Christopher Cummings, at her side, she delivered baby Pilar, but doctors couldn’t stop the hemorrhaging. She died Feb. 13, leaving a host of grieving family members, friends and sorority sisters.
Now, Xavier’s chapter is honoring her by establishing a scholarship in her name to help other outstanding African-American students at Xavier.
“The sorority is sponsoring this scholarship because she was very influential and very vocal in establishing the chapter,” says Kelley Webb, a senior finance major and chapter member. “She had a beautiful spirit,” says sorority sister Kim Hull, a 1992 graduate who was inducted into the chapter with Sewell. “She was sincerely a people person. OShe always kept in touch. Everyone that knew Becky loved her.”
Membership in the sorority does that to people. They share so much—time, service, friendship—that they create a sisterhood. It lasts long after the young women graduate from college and helps them network socially, professionally and politically. It builds strength, confidence and character. Through the sorority’s five-pronged mission statement, it helps bolster the strengths of the nation’s African-American communities.
Founded in 1913 at Howard University, Delta Sigma Theta’s focus was scholastic and political activism for black women. Members participated in the 1913 Women’s Suffragette March. They fought injustice by pushing for anti-lynching laws and fought illiteracy by sending bookmobiles into isolated southern communities. And they paid the legal expenses of students arrested during the civil rights movement.
Today, the sorority concentrates on social issues such as women’s rights, the needs of single parents and the welfare of black children. Famous Deltas include former Congress-woman Barbara Jordan, activist Mary McLeod Bethune, Olympian Wilma Rudolph, president of the National Council of Negro Women Dorothy Height, actress Ruby Dee, singer Aretha Franklin and author Nikki Giovanni.
The sorority’s mission of public service is based on five values: economic development, educational development, international awareness and involvement, health, and political awareness and involvement. Xavier’s chapter holds annual health fairs and financial aid seminars. New members are chosen each year based on academic achievement, character and community service.
The scholarship fund is taking applications in September from African-American sophomores, juniors and seniors. The winner is being announced at a scholarship brunch in October.
The first scholarship is $500 for books and supplies for the spring 2006 semester. Future awards are expected to be larger, eventually full tuition, and may be given to a male and female student each year, Webb says. The organization is raising money now for the scholarship by holding fundraisers and appealing to chapter alumnae.
One surely touched by the scholarship is Sewell’s mother, Anna Sewell, who recently had her daughter’s two children for a summer visit.
“It’s a beautiful tribute to her,” she says. “She was always a giver. She always had this smile, and anything she could do, she’d do it for you. It’s just hitting me now because she was always here with the kids, and she’d call every weekend. I think I’m still waiting for that call.”