A Life of Service through God and the Sisters of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.
Regina Fleming’s petite stature belies her status as a giant in photography. Her smile and upbeat greeting convey sweetness and light. Her natural beauty coupled with her impeccable flair for fashion and style will definitely garner a second look; but it’s the heart and mind of a champion that will leave an indelible impression on you. It’s perfectly apropos then that I began our conversation with an exclamation of, “That photo of you in that cape is EVERYTHING!!” Regina Fleming, simply put, is everything. She’s a respected businesswoman; a beloved daughter, sister, aunt, cousin, and friend to many. She’s a world traveler and a literal globetrotter as a world-class athlete running marathons across America and the globe. She’s been there, done that, and snapped a photo of it, too. Her journey has taken her around the world, and much of it can be traced back to a storied group of women she admired as a child. She made it her mission to become one of them.
“I grew up in the Baptist church,” she explained. Fleming recalls being a toddler at First Baptist Church of Far Rockaway in Queens. “All the women there dressed up and they were so smart, intelligent, well-spoken and beautiful. I looked up to them and wondereed, ‘Who ae these women?'” Church was big part of Fleming’s life. She was in the little choir, an enthusiastic participant in Sunday school, and was even the Sunday school treasurer, “That’s when I first heard about it,” she recalled.
“It” was Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. (AKA) and once AKA was on Fleming’s radar, it never left. She spoke with those women and learned they were members of a sorority. She knew there were other Black sororities so she did her research and found that AKA was the first Black sorority and their mission was “to be of service to all mankind.” Fleming began volunteering at a local hospital when she was 14 years old and at age 15 won the “Summer Volunteer of the Year” award. When she began her college career at St. John’s University and realized there was an AKA chapter on campus she exclaimed, “This is IT!!” and set the wheels in motion to become one of those beautiful, intelligent, well-spoken, and well-dressed women she so venerated for many years. “You know how you admire someone and then you see them and think, ‘Wow, there they are!’ and then I attended their rush and that’s how it began,” she recalled.
Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. was founded on Howard University’s campus in 1908. The group of nine seniors and seven juniors understood their privilege as African-American women being college educated only one generation after the end of slavery. They were determined to use their privilege and their bond of friendship to form an organization for Black women to take their talents and skills back to their hometowns and underserved communities in an effort to make a real difference. Today, AKA members focus on issues such as women’s health and wellness and supporting the arts.
Regina Fleming’s petite stature belies her status as a giant in photography. Her smile and upbeat greeting convey sweetness and light. Her natural beauty coupled with her impeccable flair for fashion and style will definitely garner a second look; but it’s the heart and mind of a champion that will leave an indelible impression on you. It’s perfectly apropos then that I began our conversation with an exclamation of, “That photo of you in that cape is EVERYTHING!!” Regina Fleming, simply put, is everything. She’s a respected businesswoman; a beloved daughter, sister, aunt, cousin, and friend to many. She’s a world traveler and a literal globetrotter as a world-class athlete running marathons across America and the globe. She’s been there, done that, and snapped a photo of it, too. Her journey has taken her around the world, and much of it can be traced back to a storied group of women she admired as a child. She made it her mission to become one of them. Fleming leads a full life as a photographer who travels the globe visiting exotic locales to capture spectacular weddings. While professional accolades, friends, and family take centerstage in her life, so does her AKA membership. In addition to marking special occasions of weddings, births, graduations, and the like, many highlights of Fleming’s life are a result of her association with and dedication to her sorority.
“The day I became a member of AKA, I already had two biological sisters; but on that day, I gained thousands of sisters,” she explained. “Now I had this whole system of sisters everywhere. That moment was one of the greatest highlights of my entire life. Also, I was celebrated as a Silver Star for 25 years of membership. We had pomp and circumstance and were acknowledged for all of our service in AKA. It was unforgettable.” Another memorable and intensely emotional occasion was welcoming her niece into the sorority. “I brought in my legacy. My niece has grown up with me and the day I got to bring her into the sisterhood was extremely special. I experienced such pride — it was beyond anything I could ever describe. Now, we’re not only auntie and niece; we’re sorors.”
Passionate about mentoring young ladies, Fleming has enjoyed speaking to high school students and taking young girls on various outings sponsored by the AKAs. “We allow those young ladies to see all of the possibilities they can be… There are so many different ways you can be of service and for me, mentoring young ladies is what I was put on this earth to do. I recall taking a group of young ladies to see Lupita Nyong’o in Eclipse on Broadway, and they made the announcement the understudy would be playing Lupita’s role for that performance,” she said. “I saw their young faces drop to the floor so I said I’d take them to the side door after the show to get autographs on our Playbills. Well, there was no Lupita, but Oprah Winfrey came out and she came over to my 20 girls and greeted us! They’ll never forget that.”
Melding two passions together has offered Fleming the extraordinary experience of being the North-Atlantic Region regional photographer for Alpha Kappa Alpha, Sorority, Inc. “I know one of the things I was put on this earth to do is photograph the history of Black people, but especially Black women. I’ve always loved those black and white photos of our grandparents and great-grandparents whether dressed up for Sunday church or just sitting on a Harlem stoop. And now, I became the person documenting the history of the women of my region of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. for four years and I have thousands and thousands of photos.” The new regional director asked Fleming to remain involved in the organization’s official photography, so she did. “We changed it to the AKArazzi. I have a vice-chair working with me and we have other photographers who are our eyes and ears and report back to us.”
As an AKA, Fleming has also been able to incorporate her love of fashion into the service the organization does. “We take pillow cases and decorate them in the way only us AKAs can,” she chuckled. “Then, I sit with my sorors in their 20s all the way up to their 90s and we sew by hand and on machines so we can make dresses. And we send those dresses to Haiti. We also partner with Soles4Souls to donate gently-used shoes to people all around the world who don’t have shoes to wear. I have walked into rooms where there are boxes of shoes piled from floor to ceiling, filling the entire room. It’s an incredible feeling to be a part of that.” She’s also proud to serve people closer to home. “When we gave out turkeys in Harlem and people came up to me saying, ‘Thank you, Miss. Thank you!’—those moments change lives. WE change lives.”
Fleming reflected upon her introduction to AKA, Inc. through the women she admired at her church. “These are the two places where you have everything,” she said. “You have women fresh out school, women who own their own businesses, women who are corporate leaders, and everything in between. Stay-at-home-mothers, doctors, lawyers, retirees, and the vice president of the United States of America can all be in one room, sharing their passion for being of service. How powerful is that?”
The excitement of having Vice President of the United States Kamala Harris as a soror certainly is not lost on Fleming. While she has yet to meet or photograph her personally, she looks forward to the possibility of the opportunity. “I never thought I couldn’t be anything I wanted to be, but having a Black woman and soror holding that office—the fact that I am alive to experience this!” She chuckled and squealed before adding, “I’m sure Black women all over the world are applying to law school in droves and seeking membership in Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. right now.”
Between her youthful, good looks and the excitement, awe, and reverence with which she speaks of her sorority and her sorority sisters, one might easily mistake Fleming for a new member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. However, having reached Silver status and 25 years in the organization, Fleming is looking forward to her next AKA milestone of Gold status—50 years of sisterhood and service. Just as she runs marathon races around the world, she’s going to go the distance with her sorority sisters. Now a member of Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, Regina Fleming is accomplished, well-dressed, beautiful, and well-spoken; young girls in the congregation admire her. As a child she made it her mission to become one of those women. Mission accomplished.