AKA convention brings needed infusion to Houston economy
Members of Texas Southern University's Gamma Psi chapter of AKA during the June 2018 program celebrating AKA Inc's donation to TSU. Photo by Aswad Walker.

Salmon pink and apple green are taking over the Bayou City as more than six thousand members of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated converge on downtown Houston for their 90th South Central Regional Conference. Conference leaders expect the event to generate millions for the local economy.

That’s welcome news for Houston First, which has been struggling to rebuild after the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered a normally bustling convention hotspot.

“It’s always a pleasure to host a prestigious organization, such as Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated. Whether it be a boule or a regional conference, this organization makes its presence known and embodies what it means to be great leaders. The contributions that they make to their respective communities on both a local and national level are unmatched, and we are thankful for all that they bring to Houston each time they visit,”  said Houston First President & CEO Michael Heckman.

Operating under the theme, “Reigniting the Flame of Excellence and Sisterhood” members from Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana and New Mexico, hope to shine the light on issues impacting the African American community while also participating in business meetings, social activities, community service, and honoring local leaders at the George R. Brown Convention Center.

“The contract for the Houston conference was actually done in 2018, for 2020,” said Joya Hayes, who serves as South Central Regional Director for the sorority. “We, along with the city, have really been working together to make sure that some kind of way we made it happen. We put it off year after year, but we didn’t cancel it because we wanted to come to Houston and we wanted to make sure we did it in a place that was safe.”

Economic boom

The group’s presence is expected to bring a significant economic boost to the city, to the tune of $2.1 million.

“We come to work, but we spend some money,” Hayes said. “We shop, we eat. Many of the local restaurants are having specials to welcome us back into the Houston area. We have shopping with over a hundred vendors that are going to be a part of our safe space for vendor shopping. And so, yes, we are not only ready to do work and get the business done, but we are ready to eat, shop and just enjoy one another’s company.”

When you add the thousands registered for the conference, the food and beverage,  transportation, and souvenir shopping, along with the sold-out hotels, tourism leaders say it’s a win for the city.

“Having well-established and respected groups such as the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority return to the Hilton Americas-Houston is not only an optimistic sign for the hotel, but for Houston as well,” said Jacques D’Rovencourt, General Manager, Hilton Americas-Houston. “These gatherings play an important role for non-profit organizations to celebrate their hard work and raise funds for charitable efforts, while serving as a launchpad to help make positive change in the city. To see organizations such as Alpha Kappa Alpha back in our meeting spaces is an inspiring sight and we look forward to hosting them.”

The last time the organization held a convention here, it was the national conference in 2018. That event reportedly generated more than $60 million for the local economy. While the numbers aren’t expected to be as high this go-around as this is a regional conference, city leaders say it will definitely have a lasting impact.

A rich history

The Houston region is special to the 114-year-old organization. Members turned out in droves to help during Hurricane Harvey, putting in countless volunteer hours cleaning up, manning food pantries and attending to those in need. Two AKA past national presidents – Dr. Mattelia B. Grays and the late Faye B. Bryant – called  Houston home and the city boasts 14 graduate chapters and six undergraduate chapters.