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 Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc.’s Century City Alumnae Chapter in West Los Angeles, California and did an interview with Shonelle Blake the 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. Shonelle Blake, who works as a Real Estate Investor, has been in the position of president for 2 years.
We interviewed Blake, who is a Pi Psi Chapter Spring 1992 initiate of Delta Sigma Theta 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?
Having been a proud member of Delta Sigma Theta for over three decades, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my involvement in various leadership roles. However, assuming the leadership of a large chapter was a significant decision for me, influenced by three key factors. First and foremost, I recognized that taking on this role would foster my personal, professional, and organizational growth within this esteemed institution. Second, as president, I understood that I would have the privilege of being present in critical rooms, attending influential events, actively engaging with our community, and shaping the trajectory of both my chapter and our region in ways that were beyond the scope of my role as a general member. It would grant me a more intimate understanding of the global impact of Delta Sigma Theta. Lastly, the encouragement and support from my fellow chapter members, who saw potential in me, played a pivotal role in my decision-making process. Their belief in me and their caring guidance ultimately emboldened me to take the plunge. I was recently reelected to my second term and I can confidently say it was a decision well worth making.
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?
First, I am excited to share our Entertainment Summit: Sisters, Success, and Cinema which is an economic initiative around Black voices in the entertainment industry. Currently, two of the largest unions that represent the entertainment industry are on strike in Los Angeles standing for fair wages and streaming residuals. To them this represents closing the income gap between the studios and the actors. What is often unbeknownst to those outside of Los Angeles is that the entertainment industry is woefully underrepresented as it pertains to African American writers, producers, production crews, actors and many lesser known influential roles in production. This initiative will help close that gap. Our entertainment summit will inform our community on how to access these jobs that are vital to the California economy. We want more of our voices on the big and small screen, to help shape our narratives and tell our rich stories in more diverse, edifying and accurate ways than the usual tropes around slavery, trauma and struggle. I am also very proud to share our signature program, McAlister, which is our ongoing initiative to support pregnant and parenting teens at McAlister School in the Los Angeles Unified School District. This year, we are poised to partner with the Black Children’s Collective and Black Infant Health organizations to expand the ways in which we help improve the mortality rates of Black women in child birth and assist Black women on their parenting journey. We have also joined efforts by Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass to provide services for and help more people obtain housing to decrease the city’s staggering homelessness numbers. Data shows that Black people make up only 8% of L.A.’s population but 34% of its homeless. This is a vital issue of concern for Century City Alumnae as our mission is to support the efforts that impact African American community related to social and economic disparities Having a place to live is the beginning to living a stable life.
What made you want to pledge Delta Sigma Theta?
My desire to join Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated stemmed from a deep-seated belief that any privilege I’ve enjoyed carries with it a responsibility to uplift and improve the lives of African Americans. During my college years, I actively engaged in student and community organizations, and it became clear to me that joining Delta Sigma Theta Sorority would allow me to continue my life of service in the most remarkable and impactful way possible. The prospect of serving alongside such dynamic and influential leaders who shared my unwavering commitment to service, the empowerment of the Black community, and the utilization of the collective strength of Black sisterhood to effect positive change was an opportunity I couldn’t find anywhere else but within Delta Sigma Theta Sorority. While we weren’t the first Black sorority to be established, we were the first in prioritizing public service our impetus since inception. This commitment has defined us from day one to the present, and it was this dedication to a noble calling that resonated with me, leading me to choose Delta Sigma Theta Sorority as my home.
What is it about your specific chapter that makes it so unique?
Century City Alumnae service area cities and neighborhoods cover a large geographical area, but has only a few places with a concentrated Black community or Black representation. Our charge is a big one! We are unique because we have the opportunity to illuminate the greatness and legacy of Black people in places where we are not always seen. Within our chapter, we boast a diverse membership that spans all age brackets, ranging from individuals in their 20s to those in their 70s! Century City Sorors bring a rich tapestry of experiences with some initiated during their undergraduate years and others joining through the alumnae experience. Our professional backgrounds encompass a wide array of fields, including law, entertainment, social services, healthcare, public relations, and public policy. This breadth of expertise serves as a valuable foundation for the development of our particular service programs. Century City Alumnae has earned recognition through more than 100 regional and national awards for program excellence, a true testament to the proficiency of our members who conceive and execute our thoughtful and relevant initiatives.
How is your chapter providing for the undergraduate chapters you support?
Century City Alumnae is proud to partner with our collegiate chapters and provide advisory support. We have many members who were initiated through Pi Chapter at UCLA, Tau Delta at Loyola Marymount and Upsilon at USC so as a chapter, we feel a special kinship with these chapters. We provide financial support for collegiates to attend conferences, conventions and other opportunities for internal development, we attend their events, we have donated school supplies, we invite our collegiate sisters to our events and we love to partner on service projects when we can. We are very proud to have served as collegiate advisor to Pi Chapter for more than 20 years.
How do you approach fostering a sense of unity and camaraderie among alumni members, and what strategies have you found effective?
First, I think it’s essential to prioritize open communication and inclusivity. It is important to encourage active participation in chapter meetings, events, and activities, ensuring that everyone’s voice is heard and valued. I also seek to embrace the diverse talents and backgrounds within the chapter, and create platforms for members to share their skills and passions, fostering a sense of collaboration and mutual support. Additionally, we engage in meaningful community service projects together, reinforcing the collective commitment to making a positive impact beyond the sorority’s boundaries. To keep our connections strong with our Delta Dears, which are our esteemed Sorors that are over age 62 and some who live alone, we have a Buddy Program where we enjoy get togethers, call and check on their well being, organize transportation when needed, send cards and gifts as well as communicate plans in the event of emergencies. Our chapter also has a strong committee called Membership Development that facilitates both formal and informal gatherings of sorority members. The activities range from our annual Christmas party to worshipping together to potluck dinners to going as a group to a sporting or arts event. The opportunity to enjoy great food or entertainment together allows members time to get to know and enjoy each other outside of our busy committee work.
What advice would you give to aspiring leaders within your sorority who may aspire to take on roles of leadership within alumni chapters?
I want to encourage all aspiring leaders to jump in! Don’t be afraid to take a chance on yourself. It can seem intimidating to step into a leadership role if you’ve been a member of a chapter and witnessed brilliant, confident, hard-working women lead your chapter and you might think the job is challenging and overwhelming. It is a lot of work but rewarding work. Resist the urge to discount yourself because we often do not know what we are capable of until we rise to the challenges before us. New leaders become great leaders by experience; and everyone has a first step in any leadership capacity. As president I have appreciated the opportunity to meet people, represent my chapter, receive invitations and sit at tables that I would likely not be if I were not in this role. I am grateful to have met so many wonderful people and contributed in my own way to the great legacy of programming, service, and excellence my chapter is known for.
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 am so grateful to have had such wonderful mentors along the way whose words of wisdom and support have guided me over the years. I would say one of the most impactful mentors in my life is my Soror Tressa Williams. She has not only supported and guided me as a member of Delta Sigma Theta, but she was also my boss! Working with her professionally and serving along side her in our community work has helped to make me the leader I am today. Under her mentorship I have gained confidence, learned to be measured in my communications, and have watched her model such care, love, selflessness and knowledge that I will always respect and admire. She has the most beautiful spirit….I am proud to call her friend, sister, and mentor.
Why do you think Watch The Yard is important to Black greekdom?
Watch The Yard has evolved from a modest website that initially showcased Black Greek step shows into an indispensable hub for illuminating the history, purpose, and community-oriented endeavors of Black Greek-lettered organizations. This special platform has effectively bridged the divide between these organizations and the broader public through a series of straightforward yet pivotal actions – dispelling misconceptions and disseminating insights into how these groups have been intrinsic to African American history and societal advancement. Watch The Yard has also cast a spotlight on the exceptional individuals within our organizations and the richness of our culture; facets often overlooked or underrepresented in mainstream and social media. In today’s world, Black Greek-letter organizations remain as relevant as their founding days, and Watch The Yard stands as an essential component of our shared lexicon.
Looking back at it, why do you love being a member of your org?
I cherish my membership in Delta Sigma Theta because it provides me with a unique opportunity to make a tangible difference in the lives of those around me. Being part of this sorority allows me to collaborate with like-minded women who are passionate about giving back and creating positive change. Together, we engage in meaningful projects and initiatives that not only strengthen our community but also foster personal growth, leadership development, and lifelong friendships. It is an absolute source of pride to be part of an organization that embodies the spirit of service, empathy, social action, sisterhood and unity, making a lasting impact on both our members and the communities we serve.
Lastly, what does sisterhood mean to you?
Sisterhood, to me, is a profound and unbreakable bond forged through shared experiences, unwavering support, and unconditional love. It transcends mere friendship. It encompasses a deep sense of trust and loyalty that extends beyond blood relations. Sisterhood means having a network of women who celebrate your successes, stand by you during challenges, and inspire you to become the best version of yourself. It’s a source of strength, empowerment, and a reminder that you are never alone on life’s journey. It is a cherished connection that enriches my life in countless ways, and I’m so grateful for the incredible women who care for me, support me and are part of my sisterhood.
We at Watch The Yard would like to commend Shonelle Blake for her work as the President of the Century City Alumnae Chapter which has a legacy that spans back to 1981.
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