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 Zeta Tau Omega Chapter in West Palm Beach and did an interview with Vernique Williams, the Basileus (president) of the chapter.
The position of president of a Black sorority chapter is a highly respected role and there is a special pride that one takes. Williams, who is an electrical engineer, has served in the position of Basileus for 14 months.
We interviewed Williams, who is a Spring 1992 initiate of her sorority’s Gamma Kappa Chapter and a graduate of Tuskegee University 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?
When thinking about this question, one of my favorite quotes crossed my mind by John C. Maxwell: “A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way and shows the way.”
As president of the Zeta Tau Omega Chapter allows me to develop confident leaders who undoubtedly know, go and show. Each member has a special gift and as president, I strive to work with the future leaders to bring out the best version of themselves and maximize their potential not only for the good of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated but for the betterment of the community in which we’ve committed to serve.
What specific initiatives is your chapter heading up this year and how do you think they will improve the surrounding community?
The Zeta Tau Omega chapter implements the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated national Target 1 HBCU and our signature program, #CAPSM. The local goal of the HBCU for Life: A Call-to-Action initiative is to engage the Zeta Tau Omega Chapter to promote and market HBCUs and encourage students to attend HBCUs as a sustainable measure. Our chapter has engaged high school students to participate in Zoom informational sessions to inspire them to consider HBCUs as their viable educational choice. The signature CAP SM Program assists students as they seek admission to college by providing hands-on guidance and support as they apply for college. Zeta Tau Omega bridges the gap between high school and college by demystifying the process by engaging all Title 1 schools in Palm Beach County in a step-by-step college application process. Additionally, Zeta Tau Omega facilitates a quarterly HBCU Table Talk to initiate and foster conversations about finance, academics, and social scenes. We also address non-academic topics such as safe dating and relationship tips
What made you want to pledge Alpha Kappa Alpha?
While attending Tuskegee University in the early 1990’s, I was seeking an organization that would help me leverage networking opportunities, increase camaraderie, and to be of service. The amazing young women of the Gamma Kappa chapter on Tuskegee University’s campus epitomized what it meant to be in touch with the community through various programs with the VA Hospital and the local schools while being educated, beautiful, black and sisterly. During my research, I was impressed by the fact that Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated was the first Black female Greek letter organization in the country. Additionally, the passion that Gamma Kappa displayed in the community and the high regard they had for their education definitely piqued my interest as an organization I could identify with and build a forever sisterhood. These ladies came from all over the country and from various backgrounds, yet their unity was so amazing and authentic to me. I continue to be in close contact with my line sisters and Dean of Pledges, and many Gamma Kappa chapter members today and can always reach out to them for support and guidance in many facets of my life. Our steady support for one another has definitely increased, especially through these recent trying times.
What is it about your specific chapter that makes it so unique?
The Zeta Tau Omega Chapter is unique in that it has been serving Palm Beach County and surrounding communities for more than six decades. We are proud to be the premiere sorority with members ranging from the mid-20s to almost 90 years young. Because of our membership’s diversity, the Zeta Tau Omega Chapter benefits from generational knowledge, involvement, wisdom, and sisterhood. We believe in the Power of Us, which is our mantra of unity. Zeta Tau Omega chapter consistently promotes and encourages the collegiate experience (especially the HBCU experience) by awarding scholarships to deserving high school seniors. To date, $370,000 has been awarded over the lifetime of the scholarship.
We also sponsor an annual Community Youth Outreach endeavor for middle and high school students. This workshop is designed for parents and students to gain insight into lifestyle topics, including financial literacy, mental wellness, and leadership development.
Additionally, we host an annual “PromTique,” which is a boutique-style shopping experience that affords free prom dresses, accessories, shoes, makeup, and a limo raffle for students who would otherwise not have access to resources that would make their prom experience magical. Moreover, the Zeta Tau Omega chapter has a global impact initiative in which our members collect shoes and personally deliver them to deserving children in Haiti.
Lastly, the Zeta Tau Omega chapter also raises funds for the Sickle Cell Foundation and various nonprofit organizations in the community to extend their reach.
We now live in a digital world, what do you think alumni chapters across all orgs need to do to represent themselves online in 2021?
As we delve deeper into 2021, alumni chapters across all organizations will need to make sure they are visible on all social media platforms. It is imperative to make sure they implement a strong technology team within every list of committees. Also, chapters must make sure that they utilize the bench strength of early technology adopters who have knowledge of relevant trends, cutting-edge marketing strategies, and strong social media expertise. By engaging these members on technology committees, the chapter can use digital media to showcase each chapter’s talent, programs, and service initiatives by using the most contemporary technology. Also, the technology teams can educate and inspire the later adopters to comfortably engage in technology and virtual endeavors. Alumni chapters should provide access to relevant topics that are both informational and inspirational.
How is your chapter adapting to navigate the pandemic?
The Zeta Tau Omega Chapter has been resilient in navigating through the pandemic by utilizing and leveraging the Zoom platform to host meetings, fundraisers, and workshops. As a result of the pandemic, some members were forced into using digital products. Zeta Tau Omega chapter engaged all members in training and refreshers through our Public Relations Team. We were able to successfully pivot our voting initiatives by collaborating with “When We All Vote,” a national voting initiative, while also conducting a socially distanced “Stroll to the Polls” event. Our sisterly service was on display as we supplied our seasoned members with essentials baskets, which included hand-sanitizer, masks, and cleaning supplies.
In addition, we spearheaded a peaceful protest while adhering to the CDC guidelines after Mr. George Floyd’s death in May 2020. While pivoting during a dual pandemic, with COVID-19 on the rise and Police Brutality at the forefront, appeared to be a stiff challenge, the Zeta Tau Omega stepped up and stepped out safely and effectively. During these unprecedented times, our chapter operated virtually 100% and still made an impact on our community. Through our newest webinar series for the community called “The Power of Being Informed,” we had prominent and certified keynote speakers who discussed the topics of education, COVID-19, laws that can affect your life, and mental wellness.
What does leadership mean to you?
A leader helps people discover the leader within themselves. As the president and as a leader, I continuously promote the individuals who possess the qualities needed to continue our legacy as a premier sustainable organization. Through servant leadership, I am consistently making sure members are equipped with what they need to be successful in the chapter, leading by example. I am a strength-finder, pushing each member to discover and utilize their strengths to their fullest potential. It is not about titles. I help aspiring talent to become PHENOMENAL leaders. I honor those who put in the effort by boosting morale amongst chapter members. I help to steer at the helm and guide individual members to discover the leader within themselves. Understanding ourselves and effectively collaborating with others is paramount in our sorority.
Why do you think Watch The Yard is important to Black greekdom?
Watch the Yard displays the Divine 9 in a positive light by allowing different organizations to showcase how they are making a difference in their communities. Watch the Yard is an important platform to move the progressive conversation of HBCU culture forward. It is important that younger generations are exposed to the legacy of the Black college experience.
What does sisterhood mean to you?
Sisterhood is having a tribe of support, with unconditional, unwavering love and acceptance. We may not be able to choose the family we are born into; however, sisterhood means that we can create the family we want. I’m doubly blessed to have a biological sister with who I have a great relationship with and that bond was, of course, sealed in childhood with lots of love and a few battles here and there. Then, my fabulous line sisters from the Gamma Kappa Chapter, Tuskegee University, Spring 1992, are an invaluable sisterhood that connects us on both an emotional and spiritual level. We share life experiences knowing that our sisters will always be there. Through challenges and successes, we laugh with, love, and uplift each other. We actually make a concerted effort to get together on an annual basis (outside of homecoming) to connect on personal levels, rejuvenate our spirits, fortify our bond, and love on each other and have fun.
Finally, sisterhood means that we have our own personal cheering squad and “hype-girls” who encourage and inspire us to move forward in life with grace and confidence – lighting the path to our individual and collective destinies. We also hold each other accountable when we’re wrong and when we have fallen short, but the beauty is that it’s all done in love, and we know it’s ok to be vulnerable with people that have your best interest at heart. Sisterhood is akin to having your own personal network of personalized professional advisors and it’s absolutely priceless.
What a blessing it is to have an awesome sisterhood with my Gamma Kappa Spring 1992 line-sisters, and I’ll be forever grateful that Alpha Kappa Alpha, Sorority Inc. and Tuskegee University (the best HBCU) gave me that opportunity!
We at Watch The Yard would like to commend Vernique Williams for her work as the Basileus of the Zeta Tau Omega Chapter which has a legacy that spans back to December 10, 1955.
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