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Leadership Highlight: Ryan Johnson The President of Alpha Phi Alpha at The University of Southern Mississippi

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In an effort to highlight the young leaders who are leading undergraduate chapters across the nation, we at Watch The Yard reached out to the brothers of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc.’s Mu Xi Chapter at The University of Southern Mississippi and did an interview with Ryan Johnson the president of the chapter.

The position of president of an undergraduate chapter of a Black fraternity is a highly respected role and there is a special pride that one takes. 20-year-old Ryan Johnson has used the position to gain new leadership experience, improve the lives of other students on campus and help the community around him.

We interviewed the Political Science (Pre-law) major and talked about his position, goals, future and what it means to hold a leadership position on campus in the digital age.

Read the full interview below.

What does it mean to be a chapter president to you?
To me, being the chapter President is the epitome of leadership. The role of leading those who are leaders themselves is a huge responsibility and honor. I cannot understate the value of this position in my life. I’m appreciative of the life lessons and personal development that being President has granted me. When I arrived on this campus as a freshman, I looked up to the leaders in this chapter. Now, being one of those leaders represents the exceptional growth and acquisition of leadership skills that I have had over the past three years. I am beyond thankful.

What made you decide to attend The University of Southern Mississippi for undergrad?
I have family roots embedded into this university. While I had no family members from previous generations attend college, my older sisters and brothers broke our family barriers for higher education right here at this university. To me, that was enough motivation to continue the tradition. In retrospect, it was the best decision of my life. The connections I’ve made here, as well as the friendships will be enshrined in my life forever. This place has become my true home away from home.

What specific initiatives is your chapter heading up this year and how do you think they will improve the campus/surrounding community?
This year our chapter has focused on making intimate connections with the community surrounding our university. We have realized that what makes for effective service is consistent service. The key to building relationships with the younger generations in our community is to provide faithful mentorship and guidance. With this in mind, we have made it our duty to devote our service this year to a nonprofit after-school program called Aldersgate Mission. Aldersgate works to build upon the spiritual, educational, and social development of underprivileged youth in our community. We are so excited about the results we have been getting from working with the members of this ministry. Our chapter has worked extensively to arrive at the center and aid the students with their homework and build relationships. We look forward to continuing this initiative and building on the connections that we have already made.

Our chapter has also focused on fulfilling an initiative that is very dear to our organization – A Voteless People is A Hopeless People. The members of our chapter thoroughly understand and appreciate the value of voting. We realize that voting is not only the cornerstone of our democracy, but the gateway into allowing our downtrodden communities to flourish. This year we have worked with other organizations on campus to host multiple voter registration drives, not only on our campus but at local high schools as well. In addition, our chapter partnered with numerous other campus organizations to have a mass Walk to the Polls event on election day (Nov. 6). In addition, our chapter has also had a strong presence at many voter rallies and other political functions to fulfill this initiative. We attended the Cory Booker Democratic voter rally for Mike Espy (Nov. 19), Jim Hood Gubernatorial Campaign Fellowship Dinner (Dec. 4), as well as the Poor People’s Campaign: A Call for Moral Revival lead by Rev. Dr. William J Barber, II (Nov. 21). But our work is not done. Our chapter will continue to work extensively to get as many people registered to vote as possible, as well as communicating the importance of voting to all communities. We are faithful to the belief that workings such as these will help fulfill our fraternity’s mission of providing advocacy. We will continue to help our communities achieve a higher status in our society.

What made you want to pledge Alpha Phi Alpha?
Alpha Phi Alpha has been nothing short of instrumental and essential to the social, economic, and educational development of downtrodden communities during the past century. Being knowledgeable and appreciative of the history of our brown and black communities drew me towards this organization. I was aware of how much I owed to Alphas. I realized that many of the luxuries that I enjoy today were direct results of the actions of men like W.E.B. DuBois, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Thurgood Marshall. With that being said, I knew there was no better way to show my appreciation for these men than by joining the same organization and continuing the fulfill the mission that these leaders lived by. I knew that following in the footsteps of these men would satisfy my ambitions. In addition, I felt that Alpha would provide the best gateway for me to serve the community, not only during my undergraduate years but after as well. My decision to follow the road of Alpha was one grounded in my values as well as inspirations from current members. The decision has been one of the best I have made and I won’t ever look back.

What is it about your specific chapter that makes it so unique?
The Mu Xi chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha has been extremely influential to the development of black culture on the campus of Southern Miss. The flourishing of our NPHC community on this campus has been a direct result of my prophytes during their time in the chapter. From the moment I stepped foot on this campus, I was aware of Mu Xi’s presence. This chapter is special. The prestige surrounding membership into the chapter cannot be understated. With that being said, it is important to note that the prestige that Mu Xi Alphas carry does not result in conceit or arrogance. The members of this chapter strive to be amiable, hospitable, and congenial with all individuals walking on this campus. Mu Xi is a hardworking, service based chapter, and we make it our duty to be social with everyone we encounter, whether they are affiliated or not. That’s what sets this chapter apart.

We now live in a digital world, what do you think undergraduate chapters across all orgs need to do to represent themselves online in 2018?
It is a necessity that we use our platforms on social media to showcase the culture surrounding our organizations. Often times I feel as if we become so closely embedded and attached to our organizations that we close off the workings of our orgs to outside people. We should embrace all the substantial things that our organizations stand for, as well as the work that we are putting into fulfilling our Founders’ vision. We should also want to proclaim this to other people, so they can be inspired to join an organization that fulfills a common purpose. If we can consistently post on our social media platform and encourage our followers to become engaged through these platforms, we will see our orgs grow in quality.

What does leadership mean to you?
Leadership to me is more than just having authority over a group. It’s more than just merely showing the ropes to those under you and delegating duties to someone. Being in the role of a leader is paramount. To me, leadership is important because it is such a dynamic and important role. Often it seems as if we get caught up in the title of leadership and forget to actually define what makes a great leader. It’s important that our leaders know that just setting the direction for those following is not enough. That direction must be the correct direction. If our leaders can do this in an efficient, clear fashion we can be destined for success.

Why do you think Watch The Yard is important to Black greekdom?
Watch the Yard is paramount to D9 life. The platform allows our organizations to be equally and thoroughly represented to not only those within Greek Life but to those outside of it. This allows our orgs to continue to become enriched with quality members. Furthermore, WTY balances the social aspects of our orgs with the service-based actions that we perform. The platform is effective in stimulating the interest of outside members and educating the viewers on the history and missions of our organizations. Black Greekdom undoubtedly owes much of its success to Watch The Yard.

What does brotherhood mean to you?
An important aspect of brotherhood/sisterhood is uplifting our colleagues when they are in need. We cannot understate the value of a helping hand to the uplifting of our friends. Black Greeklife exemplifies this concept by bringing this bond down to a more intimate level. We bring people together who share common values and help them build lifelong connections, just as one big family. In addition, we bring this notion of brotherhood/sisterhood to a larger level by aiding our communities. When we can successfully lift up those who have been victims of hardship, we are actively practicing the valued concept of kinship. To me, this is a very essential cornerstone to the success of our communities. We must actively be our brother’s and sister’s keeper, in order to overcome to the deprivations our communities face.

What do you plan on doing after graduation?
After receiving a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science, I plan on pursuing a career in the field of law. My dream career is becoming a civil rights Attorney at an organization such as the American Civil Liberties Union, or the Equal Justice Initiative. Currently, I am hopeful to gain admission into Howard School of Law in Washington, D.C. or the University of Alabama School of Law in Tuscaloosa, AL. Continuing to build upon my academic success is a near and essential part of my future.

We at Watch The Yard would like to commend Ryan Johnson for his work as the president of Mu Xi Chapter which has a long legacy that spans back to 1976.

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