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Leadership Highlight: Nkenge W. Gilliam the Basileus of Alpha Kappa Alpha’s Theta Iota Omega Chapter in New York

Photo Credit: Stella Grenier

In an effort to highlight the people who are leading graduate chapters across the nation, we at Watch The Yard reached out to the sorors of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc.’s Theta Iota Omega Chapter which serves Suffolk/Nassau Counties, Long Island, NY and did an interview with Nkenge W. Gilliam the Basileus of the chapter.

The position of Basileus/president of a Black sorority chapter is a highly respected role and there is a special pride that one takes. Gilliam, who is an educator, has served in the position of Basileus for two and a half years.

We interviewed Gilliam, who is a Spring 1999 initiate of her sorority, 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 does it mean to be a chapter president to you?

It is a privilege and an honor to serve as the chapter president. You must model sisterliness, and you must be willing to be a servant leader. Sorors look to you to exemplify excellence and reflect the ideals of our beloved sisterhood. The Basileus must foster an environment of cooperative leadership, and she should be able to assess the needs of her chapter’s membership. Although there are many courtesies extended to the chapter Basileus, the Basileus understands that it is not about the courtesies and/or the privileges associated with the title; it is about fulfilling the obligations of the position effectively, objectively and sisterly. It is a privilege to serve as the chapter Basileus, but it requires a full commitment, flexibility and a relationship with God. When we have God in our lives and trust Him, we can fulfill our responsibilities with love and joy within our hearts. As the bible says in Galatians 6:9, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” I am so thankful that my chapter gave me this opportunity to serve, and I do not take this opportunity or my chapter’s support for granted.

Photo Credit: Stella Grenier

What specific initiatives is your chapter heading up this year and how do you think they will improve the surrounding community?

We will continue to serve our community by planning and implementing impactful community service programs by fulfilling the international program targets under the theme of “Exemplifying Excellence Through Sustainable Service.” By forming valuable partnerships, Theta Iota Omega Chapter will promote Census 2020 Awareness, increase voter registration, promote HBCUs, distribute academic scholarships to students attending HBCUs in the Fall, develop programs that promote women’s healthcare and wellness and implement programs that promote fiscal fitness. Communities of color are losing funding and services due to local budget cuts and bureaucratic challenges. Resources are limited and the Census 2020 has an impact on all communities especially communities of color. It is our charge to act, to expose voter suppression, to promote fiscal fitness and to explain the many political and funding problems associated with an inaccurate census count. Our chapter members are very resourceful, and we will utilize intercommunity relationships to protect the interests of the communities that we serve.

What made you want to pledge Alpha Kappa Alpha?

Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated® is filled with talented, creative, and professional women. The sorority, which is in its second century of service, continues to be relevant in the 21st century. The founders of this great sisterhood were visionaries, and they were committed to providing service to all mankind. One hundred and eleven years later, Alpha Kappa Alpha women are still transforming communities locally, nationally, and abroad. When I was a little girl, I knew that I was going to be an Alpha Kappa Alpha woman. My dear aunt, Vernice, and her sorority sisters revered the ideals of the sorority. Providing service to all mankind is the responsibility of all Alpha Kappa Alpha women, and my aunt was very active in her graduate chapter for many years. From observing her, I learned that Alpha Kappa Alpha membership lasts a lifetime. When she became an Ivy Beyond the Wall in 2002, I knew that she was resting peacefully in heaven for she was a dedicated educator, a community servant and a proud Alpha Kappa Alpha woman. Alpha Kappa Alpha women have always played a special role in my life. They exemplify finer womanhood, humility, and love. When I became a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated® in the Spring of 1999, Theta Iota Omega Chapter became a part of my life. My sorority sisters loved me, nurtured me, counseled me and mentored me. When I married my husband, gave birth to my son, or traveled halfway around the world, my sorority sisters were with me and they supported me. There are so many women in Theta Iota Omega Chapter who have personally made an imprint on my life. My mother and my aunts have shaped me into the strong woman that I am today, and I love them dearly. Nevertheless, I must say that my sorority sisters have also played a major role in my development. I am so thankful for the forty visionary charter members that established Theta Iota Omega Chapter in 1966, and I am thankful for the fourteen phenomenal women that have served as chapter Basileus before me. Our chapter has implemented effective programs that have impacted Long Island, the state of New York, and internationally for over fifty years. Our chapter membership consists of resourceful professional women, leaders in their fields, and trailblazers in their communities. When I was in my twenties which is the defining decade for many, the members of Theta Iota Omega Chapter mentored me and nurtured me. This still rings true today, and I am thankful for the numerous opportunities that were extended to me by members of Theta Iota Omega Chapter over the years.

Photo Credit: Vidcom Filmworks, Inc

What is it about your specific chapter that makes it so unique?

Theta Iota Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated® continues to fulfill the legacy of the original visionaries of the Sorority. Since the chapter’s chartering in 1966, members of Theta Iota Omega Chapter are committed to improving the economic and social conditions of their local communities, the state of New York, nationally, and internationally. Our chapter sponsored community service projects salute the legacy and rich heritage of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated®. The chapter leadership has nurtured a sincere and rare fellowship that should be commended. For over fifty years, Theta Iota Omega has epitomized the true purpose of Alpha Kappa Alpha, Sorority, Incorporated®.

After the historic Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964, many African Americans moved to Long Island and integrated the school systems. Many of our charter members integrated local school districts on Long Island and served as educators, building administrators and in school district personnel offices. Integrating Long Island was a challenging task, but our charter members were determined to make Long Island the land of opportunity for all Long Island residents. Long Island, New York and the entire country were contending with social and political changes at the time of our chapter’s chartering. The implementation of integration policies was challenging. However, the members of Theta Iota Omega Chapter were willing to advocate for social and political changes on Long Island and throughout the country. Our charter members understood that great citizens are stewards and advocates for their communities. They understood that membership in the sorority required a strong reverence to service.

In 1980, our chapter established The “Greatest Love” Cotillion, and it has served as our signature program for nearly four decades. The “Greatest Love” Cotillion gives young people an opportunity to enhance their cultural awareness, strengthen their social skills, foster their leadership abilities, encourage global citizenship and promote high scholastic achievement. It is a yearlong program that strengthens families while impacting our community positively. For nearly 40 years, the “Greatest Love” Cotillion has allowed us to award over $300,000 in academic and community service scholarships. The “Greatest Love” Cotillion is a once in a lifetime opportunity and our goal is to celebrate volunteerism and academic achievement. There is a proverb that says, “It takes a village to raise a child and our “Greatest Love” Cotillion has been a part of that village for nearly four decades. In a day, when civility and mutual respect are simply not celebrated in our media outlets – our “Greatest Love” Cotillion reminds us that love always prevails.

Tricia Messeroux Photography

We now live in a digital world, what do you think alumni chapters across all orgs need to do to represent themselves online in 2019?

All alumni chapters must recognize that we have a responsibility to protect our brand, and the digital world allows the general public and potential community partners learn more about us and our objectives. We must promote the work that we do in our local communities, statewide, nationally and internationally. Our founders developed our organizations a generation away from slavery and with limited resources. They understood that they had a responsibility to lift up our community, educate the uneducated and serve as the voice of the voiceless. Our organizations were and continue to be the backbone of communities of color and underserved communities. We need to highlight all of the great work that we do on a daily basis so that we can continue to develop fruitful partnerships that will help us to enhance the communities that we serve. Every major movement or social change in America had NPHC members involved and leading the way. If we utilize the tools of the digital world effectively, we can dispel the negative stereotypes associated with sorority/fraternity membership and highlight the ideals established by our founders over a century later.

What does leadership mean to you?

Leadership is synonymous with service. It is not about the title, and authentic leadership has no tolerance for ego. Many are intrigued by the leadership titles and the associated influence, but effective leaders fall in love with the work and the opportunity to serve. “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves,” – Philippians 2:3

Photo Credit: Theta Iota Omega

Why do you think Watch The Yard is important to Black greekdom?

“Watch The Yard” allows Black Greeks to showcase their chapter’s and their organization’s accomplishments. It gives Black Greeks an opportunity to define our organizations, highlight the achievements of individual members and share Black Greeks actively engaged in impactful community service endeavors and social events that promote Black Greekdom Unity. Black Greeks are integral to communities of color and to our nation. We are trendsetters, trailblazers, entrepreneurs, community organizers and “Watch The Yard” depicts Black Greekdom in a positive light.

Tricia Messeroux Photography

What does sisterhood mean to you?

Sisterhood is a fellowship where love has no bounds, and joy has no limits. There is support, trust, kindness and loyalty within a sisterhood. Listening ears outweigh judgmental tongues, and authentic outreach is evident within a sisterhood. As the Basileus of Theta Iota Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.®, I observe acts of sisterhood on a daily basis. We support each other during difficult times; we celebrate milestones and accomplishments together; we pay special attention to the needs of our senior members, and we share our resources and our wisdom with each other selflessly.

How is your chapter providing for the undergraduate chapters you support?

Our Graduate Advisors and our Graduate Advisory Council Members provide supportive supervision to our undergraduate chapters. We promote Leadership Development by co-sponsoring community service endeavors with our undergraduate chapters such as “Pink Goes Red” and the “Black Business Expo.” We supervise two award winning undergraduate chapters – Kappa Phi Chapter seated at Hofstra University and Kappa Epsilon Chapter seated at Adelphi University. We encourage our undergraduate members to attend our international Boule Conferences and our international Leadership Seminars by covering the conference registration fees of our undergraduates.

We at Watch The Yard would like to commend Nkenge W. Gilliam for her work as the Basileus of the Theta Iota Omega which has a legacy that spans back to 1966.

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