Friday, January 16, 2015

Black Fraternities & Sororities Chants That Mention Crossing The Burning Sands

Edited by Azizi Powell

This post features examples of historically Black (African American) Greek letter organizations (Bglos) chants that mention "crossing the burning sands". A definition of that phrase and comments about it are found below.

The content of this post is presented for cultural and folkloric purposes.

Any copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to all those whose organization's chants are quoted in this post.

I consider fraternity & sorority chants and vernacular to be cultural artifacts which deserve to be collected, preserved, and studied. That said, I also believe that fraternity & sorority songs and chants should only be recited and/or performed by those persons who are affiliated with the specific organization that is associated with that particular chant.

"Crossing the burning sands" is an important ritual in the pre-1990 legal "crossing" ("crossing over") ceremony that marks or refers to a person's membership in a historically Black Greek letter fraternity or in a historically Black Greek letter sorority. I don't know if crossing the burning sands is a part of the post 1990 legal initiation process for those organizations. Read the comment below by JSUAKA17 that is found in the "Definition of Sands" section.

The Greek definition list that is posted on the internet by the University of Nevada, Las Vegas gives the following definition for "crossed" that mentions crossing the burning sands":
"Crossed - the same as being initiated. The term means different things to different groups, but generally means crossing over from being a pledge to being a full member. Most groups record this time to the second. Term also refers to "Crossing the Burning Sands"
It's interesting that this list uses the term "pledge" as a referent for a person who in the process of joining a Bglo. That word may be banned in other areas and universities, along with the term "to pledge" and "pledging" which have been replaced with the terms "to initiate" and "initiation".

Read my comments in this post about Bglo pledging/hazing. UPDATE: March 13, 2017 [link added]
Click this 2015 pancocojams post
-end of update-

Cornell University's Greek definition list doesn't mention "crossing the burning sands". However, it gives this definition for "crossing/crossing over":
"CROSSING/CROSSING OVER – The point of membership intake process when pledges officially become members. "Greek Definitions" (Cornell University, Ithaca, New York).
The Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority line that I was part of in 1967 used the comparable term "went over". We also experienced crossing the burning sands.

The ritual and phrase "crossing the burning sands" is the source of the historically Black Greek letter organization's term "sands". Contemporarily, that word is sometimes spelled "sandz".

"Sands" - "A word used to acknowledge other members that crossed over in other organizations or in the same organization, but a different chapter." "Greek Definitions" (Cornell University, Ithaca, New York).

Bglo terms may differ across regions and within different organizations. For example, here's a comment from a blogger on an interesting discussion thread about Bglo terms and other customs: "Question Are some phrases/words SPECIFIC to certain Greek orgs?"
"04-14-2006, 12:03 AM
It seems strange to me to hear that some schools refer to anyone that pledged the same semester as them as their sands, regardless of the organization. When I pledged, the only people that we called our sands were our line sisters that actually crossed the sands with us. Of course that was in 1987, I realize that most organizations probably no longer physically cross burning sands, nor should they (we shouldn't have been doing it either). I just thought that the term sands was reserved for the most intimate of relationships, at least that is how it was in my day."
-end of quote-

Note that that Cornell University list of terms include post-1990 terms such as "membership intake process" and "initiation". That list doesn't include the word "crossed" and probably includes terms that are unique to Cornel University.

The Greek definitions list from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas also includes membership intake process terms. That list gives this definition for "sands":
"Sands (aka Parallel) - A member of your organization or another culturally based organization that was initiated at the same time you were."

Note that "crossing the hot sands" (or "crossing the burning sands") is also a Shriner's ritual. ( "What are the hot sands?"

It's important to note that Bglos (Black Greek letter organizations) are not affiliated with any Freemasonry organization, including the Prince Hall Shriners or any other organization of Shriners."

2015 marks twenty-five years after pledging/hazing was prohibited by all of the Divine Nine (D9)* fraternities and sororities. However, from reading online discussions such as "What is skating?" [archive] [hereafter given as Greekchat-skating], it's clear that the old skool ways of pledging historically Black Greek letter fraternities and sororities are still very highly valued and are still very widely practiced underground (in secret). Pledging/hazing contines in spite of its illegality (as indicated by those organization's national offices), and in spite of the very real dangers of serious physical injuries and deaths that continue to result from those pledging/hazing processes. As reflected in the comments and chants that I've read online, many members of Bglos still "pledge" lines (groups of people) although doing so could cause them and those people to be banned banned by those organizations' national office if those underground activities became known. And chants that mention or allude to "paper", "skating" or "sliding" into these organizations make it abundantly clear that the Bglo membership intake process and those who are initiated into D9 organizations by way of that process are largely viewed with considerable disgust and disdain.

This post isn't meant to explore the reasons for that. However, I believe that those attitudes won't change by citing injury & death statistics, or amounts that national has to pay because of lawsuits, and/or by threatening to ban those who don't comply with prohibitions on pledging/hazing. In addition to those things, I believe that historically Black Greek letter organizations should seriously consider why pledging the old way was/is so valued, and reform the membership intake process so that it can be both safe and valued.

For the record, I went over (became a member) of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, Inc. (Gamma Zeta chapter) in 1967. That said, I became inactive shortly after crossing over (becoming a member), and I've been inactive since. My comment about that is found below.

It's not that difficult to find examples of Bglo chants that mention pledging. Some of those examples will be featured in an upcoming pancocojams post on Bglo chants that mention crossing the burning sands.

However, I'm not aware of any other internet or non-internet collection of historically Black Greek letter fraternity and sorority chants that mention paper or skating (or sliding). By mentioning or alluding to those terms, those chants document the attitudes about the Bglo membership intake process that began in 1990 and which remains the only legal process by which people can join these organizations.

*Divine Nine (D9)
"There are nine historically Black Greek letter organizations (BGLOs) that make up the National Pan-Hellenic Council. Collectively, these organizations are referred to as "The Divine Nine." Each of these fraternities and sororities is rich in history - ties to one or more of these organizations may be found in many college-educated Black families in the United States.
•Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Founded 1906, Cornell University
•Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Founded 1908, Howard University
•Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Founded 1911, Indiana University
•Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Founded 1911, Howard University
•Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Founded 1913, Howard University
•Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Founded 1914, Howard University
•Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Founded 1920, Howard University
•Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Founded 1922, Butler University
•Iota Phi Theta Fraternity, Founded 1963, Morgan State University"
Note that the Divine Nine (D9) is not a formal term.
The National Pan-Hellenic Council
"The National Pan-Hellenic Council (NPHC) is a collaborative organization of nine historically African American, international Greek lettered fraternities and sororities...

The council promotes interaction through forums, meetings and other mediums for the exchange of information and engages in cooperative programming and initiatives through various activities and functions."

For the most part, these chants are presented without explanatory notes. Almost all of these examples were found online. All of the examples of these chants that I've found to date positively refer to crossing the burning sands.

It's likely that all Divine 9 organizations have chants that mention crossing the burning sands. The number of chants in this post that are from any particular organization or the absence of chants from any organization should not be interpreted to mean anything.

Additional chants will be added if I come across them. Additions from blog readers are welcome.

AKA what ya do to me
You make me feel so good
AKA what you do to me
Just like I knew you would.

We cross the burning sands
To find something new
We cross the burning sands
To find real womanhood.
-Azizi Powell, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. pledge song (Gamma Zeta chapter, New Jersey, 1967)1967, 10/30/2006
This is one of three pledge songs that I remember from my Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority line. is a cultural website that I began in 2001. However, for various reasons, that website will probably go off-line soon. I'm reproducing different cocojams's material on one of my google blog sites, including pancocojams..

(Tune: Little Liza)

Verse 1
When we were searching for the LIGHT,
We hears a WISE MAN call,
"Now Listen well! I'm going to tell

Alpha, we love you!
Alpha, we love you!
Love you in the springtime
and the fall.
Alpha, we love you!
Alpha, we love you!
Love you best of all!

(Repeat chorus)

Verse 2
We listened well and made our pledge.
Then crossed the burning sands,-
and entered dear old A*PHI*A,
The greatest in the land!

-Brian A. Jackson Alpha Phi Alpha collection, posted on, 3/20/2010
Brian A. Jackson, a Cocojams reader, and a life member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.(Beta Chapter, Howard University, Spring 1990) shared with me a number of Alpha Phi Alpha songs & chants with me and gave me permission to post examples of Alpha Phi Alpha songs & chants on (March 2010). At that time, Brian A. Jackson was the Vice President of the Xi Nu Lambda Grad Chapter in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and had been collecting Alpha Phi Alpha songs and chants over the last 20 years. Examples from this collection are indicated by the notation "Brian A. Jackson Alpha Phi Alpha collection".


C, D

E, F

G, H
Go Down, Brother
Way down to Egypt Land

Tell the people
The light has come.

(Back in 06)
Back in 06
Many years ago

7 Black men
Couldn't take no more

They professed to have seen the light
The Light Of The World

They journed to
The motherland

Where they crossed
Those burning sands

Marching onward
They had to see

Just what
The end would bring
(What the end would bring)
-Brian A. Jackson Alpha Phi Alpha collection, permission granted to post on, 3/20/2010

I, J
Are you really worthy
of the land of the purple and the gold?
Will you succeed?
Will you cross the burning sands?
Are you worthy?
It’s a long hard road to Omega.
Impress me.
-Anonymous, a note in a Q Pearl song book, Edinboro University (Pennsylvania), 1991, posted by Azizi Powell on
"Q Pearl" is one name for the auxiliary ("Little sister") group of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc. Auxiliary groups aren't legal organizations. Yet, I believe that they still exist.

Like other Bglo little sister groups for other fraternities, females pledging Q Pearl (know elsewhere as Q Essence) were pledged by Big sisters (Q Pearls who had "crossed") and sometimes also by Big brothers (members of Omega Psi Phi fraternity). As is probably the case with the above chant, some of the chants that those line members learned were Omega Psi Phi chants.

K, L

M, N

O, P
I woke up one morning and what did I see?
Three mighty founders of PHI B. E.
They touched my heart and they touched my soul.
They said oh don't you pledge that black and gold.

They touched my mouth and they touched my eye
and said oh don't you pledge no K-A-Psi.

Now they looked me down form my head to my shoe
and said you sho don't want to be no Que.

Now I'm walking down that Sigma Street.
I saw some Zetas they were looking at me.
I looked to my left and I looked to my right
and all I could see was that Blue and White.

Now the closer I got to that light you see.
PHI BETA SIGMA was growing in me.

The road is hard to Sigmaland.
Before I got there I had to cross them sands.

Now that I've crossed those burning sand.

I can say I am a SIGMA MAN!!!!
-, retrieved on September 30, 2010
This is a Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc. chant. The chant also mentions Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. (and that organization's colors) since the Sigmas and Zetas are official brother & sister organizations.

When I was a probate man
trying to find my way across the burning sands
come on brothers and rescue me
i said i oweeeeeeeeeeee
my lifeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee
to SIGMA whooooo!
I owe! I owe my life!
-, retrieved on September 30, 2010
This is a Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc. chant.

Q, R

S, T
SCROLLERS, (Example #1)
I was looking for the name of this but I kouldn't find it. This is the chant a Brother from "O.G." gave us:

I don't know,
I don't know if I can make it into Kappa Alpha Psi
OHHHHHHHHHHHH, Big Brother said we couldn't make it,
Huhhh, but we got a big surprise
We're gonna cross those burning sands
we're gonna make into Kappa Alpha Psi
-K_I_A_Nupe (Tampa, Florida), Kappa/Scroller Chants, January 8, 2009
I used the title "Brothers", but I'm not sure what the title of this chant actually is.

This is a Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc. chant.

SCROLLERS (Example #2)
Yup. We did the same chant as scrollers down here @GL with a few substituted words. (Gamma Lamda) Huston-Tillotson University.

I don't know, I don't know if we can make it over
Scrollers, I don't know if we can make it into Kappa Alpha Psi.
OHHHHHHHH, if we can make it into Kappa Alpha Psi
Big Brother said, we wouldn't make it
but we got a big suprise
we're going to cross those burning sands alive
we're going to make it into Kappa Alpha Psi
Kappachino3Klub (Texas), "Kappa/Scroller Chants", January 8, 2009

It’s a long hard road to Omegaland.
Do you think that I will see you
on the other side?

Are you really worthy
of the land of the purple and the gold?
Will you succeed?
Will you cross the burning sands?
Are you worthy?
It’s a long hard road to Omega.
See it through.
Impress me.
-Anonymous, from notes in Q Pearl book, 1991 Edinboro University (Pennsylvania),
posted by Azizi Powell on
Read my comments for the chant entitled "Impress Me".

U, V

W, X
Who are we
My sisters and me
We are the soul steppin sorors
We came here
Across the sands
Over into Delta Sigma Theta land.
-anonymous, from memory of Slippery Rock University step show (Pennsylvania late 1990s, early 2000s), posted on [Pancocojams' editor: This was my website; It's no longer active.]

Y, Z
You got to pledge hard, to cross those burning sands,
You got to pay the price, to be an I-Phi Man.
I was walking along the streets one day, when I heard the word of an I-Phi Man -
Iota is Great!
Iota is Grand!
Everybody loves an I-Phi Man!
-, "Iota Phi Theta, Fraternity song book, retrieved 1/2/2013

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  1. I disagree with a definition about "crossing the burning sands" that I just read on Greek Terminology
    "Crossing the burning sands: This is done after a pledged or hazed process only. This is done with hot ashes.”

    As an AKA who "crossed over" in the late 1960s, I know that definition wasn't true for my line. We DEFINITELY didn't cross over any hot ashes.

  2. Nell Cannon, my position is that once you've "crossed the burning sands", you're always a member of that Greek letter organization.

    I consider myself a long term inactive member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. And I acknowledge the memories that I have about my experiences with that organization and the lessons about myself and about others that I learned from pledging that organization and being active in that organization for a very short time.

    After joining Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., I decided to concentrate on the activities of a Black cultural organization called Committee For Unified Newark that I has also joined around the same time.

    Shortly thereafter, I left Newark and also left that organization.
    I moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania when I was 21 years old. Although there was and continues to be a very active graduate chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha, Sorority, Inc. in Pittsburgh, I never became involved in that chapter or any other chapter of that organization.

    I have various reasons for that including my decision to concentrate on raising my children, and my being active in African centered and African American centered cultural activities such as storytelling adapted West African folktales, collecting African American children's rhymes and game songs, starting and leading a cultural after-school group for children called "Alafia Children's Ensemble", and starting and coordinating a cultural website called "Cocojams".

    Also, the older I get, the less fond I am of organizational dynamics.