When you watch the Tournament of Roses parade on Jan. 1, there will be a moment when history is being made. That moment will come when a float celebrating the 100th anniversary of Delta Sigma Theta sorority comes into view.

The 55-foot-long and 17-foot-high float, themed “Transforming Communities Through Sisterhood and Service” designed and built by Fiesta Parade Floats, represent the first time ever that an African American Greek-letter organization has entered a float in the 124-year-old Rose parade.

No. 46 in the lineup, the Delta float represents the kickoff of the sorority’s international yearlong centennial celebration.

“They heard about our 100th anniversary celebration through collaborative conversations, and we thought it would be wonderful to be able to celebrate and kick off the year with a tremendous history-making event,” said Rev. Gwendolyn E. Boyd, the 22nd national president of the Deltas, and national chair of the centennial celebration, explaining how the float came into being.

“We would be part of the many millions of people watching the parade around the world and let them know that Delta Sigma Theta is celebrating a tremendous milestone in the life of the organization.”

Tapping into a worldwide audience is nothing new for Delta Sigma Theta. Founded on the campus of Howard University by 22 women, the organization now has more than 300,000 college-educated members in more than 900 chapters located in the United States, England, Japan, Germany, the Virgin Islands, Bermuda, the Bahamas and the Republic of Korea.

The goals of this private nonprofit are to provide assistance and support through established programs in local communities throughout the world.

This is done through five major initiatives–economic development, educational development, international awareness and involvement, physical and mental health and political awareness and involvement.

When the float comes into view, it will be accompanied by 122 people walking alongside, 100 members plus 22 people representing the founders. The 12 float riders will include the national president, the national executive committee and seven past presidents of the sorority.

The Deltas are not the only people excited about their appearance in the parade. Longtime Tournament of Roses Association member Gerald Freeny is also quite pleased. In fact Freeny, an African American Pasadena resident who has volunteered 25 years with the organization, and is learning the ropes of the 31 committees that comprise the association in preparation for assuming the organization’s presidency in 2018 (he will oversee the 2019 tournament), says he would not be surprised if the Delta’s efforts prodded other Black organizations to consider applying to put a float in the annual parade.

Boyd said their float cost about $250,000 and was underwritten by donations from their members. Float costs typically range from $150,000 to $300,000, said Freeny.

According to Boyd, the parade appearance kicks off the one-year centennial celebration and will be followed by a Hollywood gala that evening.

“Anybody who is tangentially connected to us will be invited to come out,” explained Boyd, noting that that includes people like Danny Glover, whose mother is a Delta, and Sidney Poitier, who was trained in drama by Delta Aseola McCarthy Adams.

On the first Sunday in March, the Deltas will re-enact the suffrage march on the original route down Pennsylvania Avenue during the group’s annual legislative weekend in Washington, D.C., March 2-5.

“This is to remind us and others that our founders were the only African Americans in the suffrage march in 9013,” said Boyd, adding that the goal is to celebrate their courage and desire to be in the front line for making a difference back then and today.

“Simultaneously, when we are doing the national celebration, we will light a torch on Jan. 1 that will to travel to 22 cities, and there will be an individual celebration in those cities.” said Boyd. The cities are where the organization’s current officers live and where the living past national presidents reside.

“We also wanted to make sure our international members felt connected to the celebration, so on the West Coast, the Torch will go to Tokyo and the sorors in Japan, Korea and Okinawa will come together.

“On the East Coast, the torch will go to Bermuda, and all the Caribbean chapters will come together in Bermuda,” added Boyd.

The torch will crisscross the continental United States until it ends up in Washington, D.C., during the group’s annual convention in July.

While the Deltas are making history with their Rose Parade Float, African Americans have long been involved in participating and putting on the event.

According to president-elect Freeny, he was in the right place at the right time in 1993, when Danny Bakewell and a group of other civic leaders approached the tournament association to increase its diversity.

“I think the tournament has made strides to include more ethnic diversity from all races; reaching out to all communities. We are still working on things, still considering things, still looking at things. But it’s very positive this year that Delta Sigma Theta has put in a float,” said Freeny.

There have been other African Americans who are, or have been, involved in the association over the years, including Joan Madsen, currently director/chair of queen and court committee; Gordon Hamilton, who is chair of food services; Reggie Wolfolk, who is now retired and serving as a honorary director; and Lou Underwood.

In addition to behind-the-scenes leaders and workers, there have been Blacks actually in the parade, including the New Buffalo Soldiers (2010); and The Ebony Horsewomen (1990, 1991).

In 1999, baseball legend Jackie Robinson, who actually lived in Pasadena, was posthumously selected as one of four parade grand marshals, and in 2009, the Tuskegee Airmen were honored on a float by the West Covina Tournament of Roses Foundation.

Since the parade began in 1890, there have been three African Americans selected as Rose Queen–Kristina Smith (1985), Camille Clark (2006) and Drew Helen Washington (2012). Princesses have included Sylvia Marion Peebles (1969), Traci Lynn Stevens (1972), Shannon Bowman (2006), Michelle Kaye Washington (2011) and Nicole Nelam (2013).