In an effort to highlight the people who are leading graduate chapters across the nation, we at Watch The Yard reached out to the sorority sisters of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc.’s Phi Eta Omega Chapter in Scotch Plains & Greater Union County, NJ and did an interview with Elizabeth Nolley Tillman the Basileus of the chapter.
The position of Basilieus/president of a Black sorority chapter is a highly respected role and there is a special pride that one takes. Elizabeth Nolley Tillman, who works as a Vice President, Marketing Communications at Sompo International, has been in the position of Basilieus for 2 years.
We interviewed Elizabeth, who is a Spring 1989; Theta Kappa Chapter initiate of Alpha Kappa Alpha and talked to her about her position, goals, future and what it means to hold this type of leadership position in the digital age.
Read the full interview below.
What motivated you to take on the role of alumni chapter president?
Phi Eta Omega is a hard-working, sisterly chapter that has quietly served Scotch Plains and Greater Union County for over two decades. I saw an opportunity to help us enhance our visibility in our coverage area, strengthen our sisterly bonds and level up in terms of our operations. It truly is an honor to serve as President.
What specific initiatives is your chapter heading up this year and how do you think they will improve the local community or the broader Black community?
In support of Alpha Kappa Alpha’s international programs, we have led a dignity drive benefitting unhoused women as part of the MLK Day of Service, held an “Unplugged” day of mindfulness for children and seniors in our community and are organizing voter call out days and holding a Teen Town Hall to give new and future voters an opportunity to engage with elected school board officials across the state. We are also launching our Young Moguls in the Making “Shark Tank”-inspired competition for existing and aspiring youth entrepreneurs. All of our programs are designed to empower and meet the specific needs of various segments within the Black community.
What made you want to pledge Alpha Kappa Alpha?
My Mom is an AKA with over 50 years of service, so I never looked at another sorority. When I saw how classmates I started college with had blossomed as leaders and “movers and shakers” in the University community after joining the sorority, I wanted to find out how AKA might do the same for me. Seeing them in action inspired me to become an AKA so I, too, could become an impactful leader who leads with style and grace.
What is it about your specific chapter that makes it so unique?
At Phi Eta Omega, we like to say we are small, but we are mighty! It’s such a warm, welcoming and sisterly chapter where the members are always happy to see each other and open to new ideas. There’s so much talent and creativity in our chapter and I love how it is truly multi-generational. For example, we have a few mother-daughter pairs in the chapter, including me. My Mom and my daughter are both members. We work hard but we also have fun while we do it.
How do you approach fostering a sense of unity and camaraderie among alumni members, and what strategies have you found effective?
The sisterhood is in the service. So every community service program, chapter event or sorority activity is an opportunity for us to bond as sisters. In our chapter specifically, we have a book club and leverage AKA’s “Soror Squad” model to facilitate team bonding among smaller groups of our members. Sorors who go above and beyond are also recognized at our meetings each month. Our Membership and Sisterly Relations Committees are also intentional about surveying our members and developing activities and programs to facilitate team building and sisterly bonds throughout the year, including at our chapter retreat. We strive to keep the lines of communication open. And, as President, each year for the holidays I gift every member with a chapter ‘branded’ wearable item so we can show our chapter pride wherever we go!
What advice would you give to aspiring leaders within your sorority who may aspire to take on roles of leadership within alumni chapters?
We need you. Don’t be shy. Make your aspirations known to experienced leaders across the organization for mentorship and guidance. Getting involved, asking questions, reading our documents and doing the work is the best way to learn and prepare yourself for leadership. The beautiful thing about our organizations is that they are full of leaders who have come before you and are willing to guide and teach you. So it’s a safe space to develop your interests and nurture your talents until you’re ready to take the helm and put your own spin on it. The guardrails for preparation and support are there — formally and informally. So go for it!
How has mentorship helped you get to where you are today? Are there any specific people in your org who have made a significant impact on your life as mentors?
I have countless mentors and sponsors inside AKA — at the local, regional and international levels — who have helped me to develop as a leader and continue to guide and teach me. One of the many things I love about AKA is that the mentorship and leadership development opportunities available to you can be lifelong. You just have to be open as a lifelong learner to receive them.
Why do you think Watch The Yard is important to Black greekdom?
Watch The Yard is THE platform for the Divine Nine to show the world that we’re about more than just stepping, strolling and initiating new members. Our organizations are relevant and impactful and Watch The Yard helps to showcase that truth.
Looking back at it, why do you love being a member of your org?
As much as I may have given to AKA, it has given me back so much more. From leadership and technical skills that have served me in my day job and other spaces, to a community of women who are like family to me, AKA has provided me a platform to give back to the world around me while nurturing my personal and professional growth in the process.
Lastly, what does sisterhood mean to you?
For me, sisterhood means family. It’s about love and support and working together to participate in and create something bigger than yourself.
We at Watch The Yard would like to commend Elizabeth Nolley Tillman for her work as the Basileus of the Phi Eta Omega Chapter which has a legacy that spans back to 1999.
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