Our Charter Members
Eta Omega Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated®. was chartered on May 23, 1964, at Luigi’s Restaurant on Westchester Avenue, Bronx New York. Former North Atlantic Regional Director, Member Alocita Flood officiated the Chartering, and there were twelve charter members:
Members Nearlene Bertin, Gwendolyn B. Bland, Thora L. Dudley, Jacqueline Everett, Olga O. Garett, Joan Drane Silvey, Mary O. Harris Hope, Bessie M. Johnson, Mae Tate Jones, Gladys B. Simms, Marietta Tanner, and Irma Wilson.
Nearlene Jacquelyn Burkley Bertin Francis
Nearlene Jacquelyn Burkley Bertin Francis (formerly Nearlene Burkley) was initiated on June 15, 1945 into Lambda Chapter in New York City, and is a charter member of Eta Omega Omega Chapter. A Bronx native, Francis continued her education and received a master's degree in education from New York University and became a college instructor -- a role only held by a few black women in the mid-1960s. In 1967, she married Dr. Winthrop Nelson Francis.
Francis had a robust career in education and held many prestigious positions such as: Assistant Director of the American Language Institute, English As A Second Language (ESL) instructor, Assistant Dean and Assistant Professor of English. She worked at NYU, Brown University, University of Trondheim, Norway and Wheaton College. In her passing, Francis donated her body to medical research at Brown University. Francis worked as a literature, writing, and English as a Second Language instructor and Director of the International Students Office at Brown University.
Thora Louise Dudley was born June 12, 1937 in Montgomery, Alabama to Mr. and Mrs. Henry Dudley. As a small child, Dudley became blind. Fortunately, she had an ear for music and was able to hum tunes that she heard throughout the house. She also played the tunes on the organ. Dudley’s parents enrolled her in The Alabama School for the Blind and Westside Senior High School. She earned a state sponsored tuition scholarship and a small scholarship from her Westside teachers allowing her to attend Talladega College. In spite of her disability, Dudley made the Dean’s List and became the valedictorian of her graduating class. She also sang in the college choir. It was at Talladega College that she was initiated into Chi Chapter in 1956 along with Joan Drane Silvey. She received her Bachelor’s Degree in Early Childhood Education.
Moving to New York City, Dudley attended Hunter College on a scholarship. She received a Master of Science Degree in rehabilitation counseling. This afforded her the opportunity to become a teacher for the New York Association for the Blind. Pursuing her talent as a singer, Dudley performed the role of Pamina in the “The Magic Flute”. She had her greatest achievement when she was listed as the first black, blind woman to graduate college and graduate school in Alabama. She was also one of the first blind members of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated. At the pinnacle of her career, in 2006, Dudley was accepted as a member of Who’s Who of American Women. She passed peacefully in 2008.
Olga G. Chellis (also known as Olga McCauley Chellis) was initiated on December 1, 1942 into Phi Chapter in Shreveport, LA. While working in New York City in the 1960s at the Department of Social Services, she met Delores Lemon, Joan Silvey Drane and Jacqueline Everette Brown -- two of three made up the group of the twelve chartering members of Eta Omega Omega Chapter on May 23, 1964. Chellis became the chartering president of Eta Omega Omega Chapter, and served as the 4th president of Eta Omega Omega from 1973-1974.
Under Chellis' leadership, Eta Omega Omega hosted a luncheon which honored Mr. Kivie Kaplan, the National Chairman of the NAACP Life Membership Committee, with a special performance by Ossie Davis. Members of the chapter presented Mr. Kaplan with a $1,000 donation to the NAACP Special Fund. This donation was especially imperative given that the chapter was founded during the height of the Civil Rights Movement, and under Chellis' leadership, the Chapter met the charge to support equal justice for Black Americans. Chellis is the first cousin of Rosa McCauley Parks (“Mother of the Civil Rights Movement'' and honorary member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated)
Mary O. Harris Hope was initiated May 5, 1940, into Alpha Chapter at Howard University in Washington, D.C. She participated in numerous events in the early years of Eta Omega Omega Chapter, including the Autumn Frolic and other service projects. She worked on the chapter’s signature Martin Luther King, Jr (MLK) breakfast, hosted annually, and several other activities. Hope held several key positions in the chapter, including Vice-President in 1969 when Grace Wheeler was President. She was a dedicated educator and advocate for children. Little is known of Hope after leaving Eta Omega Omega Chapter. Her last known chapter affiliation was Tau Omega Chapter (New York, New York).
Mate Tate Jones was a product of the public schools in Montclair, New Jersey. She was a graduate of Cheyney (Penn) Teachers College, where she majored in Home Economics. She received a Master's Degree in the same field from Columbia University and was a teacher of Home Economics at the Tuskegee Institute, St. Augustine College, and Shaw University. For a period of seventeen years, she was a Home Economics Consultant for the New York City Department of Social Services until her health became impaired. Tate was a chartering member of Eta Omega Omega Chapter.
Jones was a lifelong member of the YMCA and held membership in the Union Baptist Church, Montclair, and the Cheyney Alumni Association.
A scholarship was established for her through the Cheyney College Alumni Association as a memorial to her. Jones passed away on April 11, 1971
Marietta Jones Tanner graduated from Abington High School in 1945. She went on to attend West Virginia State College where she was initiated into Nu Chapter in 1947. She graduated from West Virginia State College in 1949 with honors. Upon graduation, Tanner visited New York City where she met and married Cyrus S. Tanner and had two children, David and Stephanie. She went on to earn a Master’s degree from the City College of New York.
Tanner worked throughout the Bronx, New York as a teacher and Assistant Principal. Under the New York City Board of Education, she became a manager of a consortium of five colleges and four public school districts that supervised paraprofessionals studying to become teachers. Tanner became the chartering vice-president of Eta Omega Omega Chapter in 1964.
Tanner has worked as a columnist for The Amsterdam News in New York, and has authored two books “Children are the Barometers” (about Bronx JHS students and drug wars) and “Driving in Second”(about 1954 Supreme Court Desegregation decision). Tanner is a recipient of a plethora of awards and commendations over her lifetime for her extensive community involvement and political activism over the years. She is a founder of the Bronx Committee on the Arts in New York City. She holds memberships and is affiliated with various cultural, and civil rights organizations: Life member of the NAACP; United Nations Association of Washington, DC; Schomburg Corporation of N.Y.; African American Museum (Washington, DC); The Association for the Study of African American Life and History; Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington. Tanner resides in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and is an active member of Rho Theta Omega Chapter in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Tanner is a part of Eta Omega Omega Chapter’s first oral history project with The Bronx African American History Project at Fordham University. The oral history project is part of a digital archival collection at the Bronx County Historical Society.
Gwendolyn Barnwell Bland was initiated on June 26, 1943 into Lambda Chapter and is a charter member of Eta Omega Omega. In her professional career, she served as Executive Director of the South East Bronx Neighborhood Centers for forty-one years. Bland also served as the Director of the Gwendolyn B. Bland Day Care Center; a preschool program designed to improve and enhance children's mental, social, cognitive and emotional skills. In honor of her legacy, Eta Omega Omega Chapter currently supports the Gwendolyn B. Bland Day Care Center through an annual Christmas toy drive. The toys are donated to the children who attend the Center.
Jaqueline Everette Brown was born in Brooklyn, New York. She attended school in New York until the age of 12 when her family moved to the South where she completed her primary and secondary education. She attended Talladega College in Alabama in 1960, graduating with a Bachelor’s Degree. At Talladega, Brown was initiated into Chi Chapter in 1960. In 1963, Brown returned to New York residing in the Bronx. She worked for the New York City Department of Social Services. In 1969, Brown received a Master’s Degree from Hunter College in Social Work.
While working for the New York City Department of Social Services, Brown was reunited with fellow alumnae who were also members of the sorority (Joan Drane Silvey and Delores Lemon). Brown met Olga G. Chellis who was also a member of the sorority, and was asked by Chellis if she and the other members of the sorority would be interested in forming a Bronx chapter. The three (Jacqueline Everette Brown, Olga G. Chellis and Joan Drane Silvey) made up the group of twelve chartering members of Eta Omega Omega Chapter in 1964. In 1974, Brown returned to the South to Atlanta, Georgia. She worked for a non-profit organization and later earned her doctorate in Educational Administration from Clarke University. Dr. Brown continues to reside in Atlanta, Georgia. Dr. Brown is a part of Eta Omega Omega Chapter’s first oral history project with The Bronx African American History Project at Fordham University. The oral history project is part of a digital archival collection at the Bronx County Historical Society.
Joan Drane Silvey was born on July 6, 1938. She attended Talladega College in Alabama. She was initiated into Chi Chapter in 1956 at Talladega College. Silvey moved to the Bronx, New York after graduating from Talladega College in 1959. She became a Social Worker for the New York City Department of Social Services. She served in this capacity for many years specializing in foster care and adoptions.
In 1964, she married James Edward Silvey. She and James moved to Raleigh, North Carolina. She has two children, Adrienne and Marc. Adrienne followed in her mother’s footsteps, and became a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated. Joan Drane Silvey served as Vice-President of Alpha Theta Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated in Raleigh, North Carolina. Silvey worked in administrative positions in the North Carolina state government. She retired in 2000 as Director of School Bus Safety and Training. She passed away in 2017 in North Carolina
Bessie M. Johnson was born in Fredericks Hall Virginia and received a bachelor’s degree from the City College of New York in 1950, and a Master’s degree in 1952. After graduation, she became a teacher in the New York City School System, where she served for 17 years. Upon retirement, she became one of the charter members of Eta Omega Omega Chapter. She held the offices of Vice-President, Member-at-Large, Chairman of the Scholarship Committee and Chairman of the Committee for the reactivation of inactive members. In addition to her role on the local level, Johnson was honored (at the 1966 Boule, in California) as “mother of the year “because of her unique contributions to American Family life.
Johnson is one of the notable names in the chapter’s foundation “Wheeler, Wilson and Johnson Community Projects Incorporated., which was founded in 1994, and organized exclusively for educational and charitable purposes, within the Bronx County. Johnson passed away on December 4, 1986.
Gladys B. Simms was born on May 1, 1922 in Bronx, New York. She attended Textile High School. Simms attended Morgan State College, graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree in 1948. She was initiated into Alpha Delta chapter in 1946 at Morgan State College. She later went on to attend graduate school at New York University, earning a Master of Arts degree in 1954.
Education was very important to her, and she was a teacher at James Mott Junior High School in the Bronx, New York. She worked there for many years and was appointed Dean of Girls in 1966. Simms was a devout member of St. David’s Episcopal Church.
Simms passed away in 1967 after several years of devoted service to her students, church and Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated.
Irma Wilson was born in Chicago, Illinois on May 3, 1897. She went through her formidable years of school in the St. Louis school system and undertook teacher training at the Normal School and taught throughout the system. She moved to New York City in 1923 and completed her graduate studies at New York University. She was initiated into Lambda Chapter in 1925 while at New York University. She later went on to join Tau Omega Chapter in New York City before chartering Eta Omega Omega Chapter. Wilson married Fred Douglass Wilson in 1925 and had two children.
She taught children with intellectual disabilities at Public School 129 in Harlem; she continued to work in the New York City School System from 1927 until retirement in 1968. After retirement, she worked as a volunteer and as an administrative assistant for many years.
Wheeler, Wilson and Johnson Community Projects, Incorporated organized by members of Eta Omega Omega Chapter, exclusively for educational and charitable purposes, bears Wilson’s name in her honor. Wilson was beloved by all that knew her, and lived to be 104 years old at her passing in 2001.