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 Minneapolis-St. Paul Alumnae Chapter in Minnesota and did an interview with Dr. Stephanie Burrage 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. Dr. Stephanie Burrage, who works as the Chief Equity Officer of Minnesota under Governor Tim Walz, has been in the position of president of her chapter since July 1, 2023.
We interviewed Dr. Burrage, who is a Delta Upsilon 1987 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?
What motivated you to take on the role of alumni chapter president? As we all lived through a pandemic, the death of George Floyd, and the overturning of affirmative action motivated me to help redefine and realign the impact of our public service in our community. I knew taking on the role of chapter president of the Minneapolis-St. Paul Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. would allow me to serve my community with purpose and strategically align our public service to impact change based on the needs of our community. I was also motivated by the current chapter members who are dedicated to severing our communities and wanted leadership mirroring their commitment. I am motivated “for such a time as this” to lead a dynamic organization that has served the Minneapolis-St. Paul area for over four decades through public service programs, scholarship, and sisterhood.
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?
We have many initiatives that support our sorority’s national Five-Programmatic Thrust which includes Economic Development, Educational Development, International Awareness and Involvement, Physical and Mental Health, and Political Awareness and Involvement.
Our specific initiatives to support our local community and the broader Black community includes:
• Our National Voter’s Registration Day to get more people registered to vote. This will help community members to exercise the opportunity for their voices to be heard in our democracy. Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. will help to get more registered voters, expand voter access, and stay at the forefront for our community to ensure elections remain fair and accessible.
• Our Impact Day of Service Seeing Black in REaD will continue the legacy of literacy with a focus on Black Americans. Community members will meet local authors, discuss with excerpts regarding books banned in parts of the country, and explore library resources and community activism through the elections process.
• We continue to award collegiate students with scholarships through the Vernetta Wilson Memorial Scholarship program. Having awarded a total of $10k this year to three female high school graduates of color, we look to expand our program to include single mother(s) of color. Thereby, promoting Educational Development amongst women and girls of color.
• We are partnering with Northpoint Health & Wellness Center to serve our community through our Five-Programmatic Thrust which we align around the following: 1. Organizational Health, 2. Social Action, 3. Community Impact and the 4. Empowerment of Women and Girls
What made you want to pledge Delta Sigma Theta?
A teacher in my hometown, Soror Betty Columbel, is a charter member of Delta Upsilon (WMU) and my biological sister, Soror Mogda Walker, pledged Delta Upsilon (WMU) as well. I watched these two women work and provide support to their communities as I grew up in a small town in Michigan. I would visit my sister Mogda on Western’s campus when I was in middle school and would watch the Delta’s at their public service events and how they were seen in their communities’ helping others in need. I knew when I went to college, I wanted to be a member of this dynamic sisterhood and organization……Delta was the ONLY sorority for me. I was made in 1987 on the campus of Western Michigan University, Delta Upsilon Chapter thirty-six years ago on the line of 8th Notes with seven exceptional women who are my sisters for life. What I realized after I made my way into Delta is I gained over 250,000 women internationally that I can call my sisters as well. We share a bond of public service with the charge to be a voice for the voiceless, to bring justice to the unjust and to improve the quality of life in the communities we live in and serve. The Delta’s were always in the forefront of community service from our participation in the Women’s Suffrage March, to the march on Washington and our continued service in our communities. One of the best decisions I made was to become a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.
What is it about your specific chapter that makes it so unique?
The Minneapolis-St. Paul Alumnae Chapter is unique because we are the only Alumnae Chapter in the state of Minnesota. We have around 127 members in the Twin Cities area and serve multiple communities throughout the state.
How is your chapter providing for the undergraduate chapters you support?
We are unique in that we have one collegiate chapter in the state of MN which is Nu Epsilon City Wide Chapter. Currently, we are supporting rebuilding Nu Epsilon City Wide Chapter based on attrition the Sorors graduating coming out of the pandemic. There has always been financial support to Nu Epsilon and as we move forward in supporting the collegiate chapter, we will begin to offer mentorship and academic support to collegiate members.
How do you approach fostering a sense of unity and camaraderie among alumni members, and what strategies have you found effective?
My theme for the year is Destination Sisterhood: Reframe, Reclaim and Retain. We started our sorority year with a retreat to build on our sisterhood, unity, and camaraderie. The two-day retreat was extremely effective as Sorors from all generations were able to bond, participate in public service activities and learn positive communication tools to successfully interreact with one another and throughout our community.
Once I became president, I started contacting our members to check on them to see how they are doing and to hear from them. Many people struggled getting connected post-Covid so checking on our members and assessing their current needs is important to me in the health and well-being of our members. I also send a weekly update to our members, so everyone has up-to-date, consistent, and regular communication.
What advice would you give to aspiring leaders within your sorority who may aspire to take on roles of leadership within alumni chapters?
There is so much work to do today in serving our communities that all you have to do is find what feeds your soul and go lead. We need the expertise and leadership from all ages and experiences. When I became president in July, I called on our executive board to share their talents, but I asked each leader to follow what was in their heart and to work in an area they have been CALLED to lead. Too often we ask people to serve in spaces that do not fit who they are, and the experience may not be as successful because they were just filling a seat. There is a seat for everyone on the bus, we just need to make sure you are sitting in the right section to do the work you have been called to lead. My second piece of advice is to understand there is no I in TEAM and you must learn how to lead others and not operate in isolation. My third piece of advice is to treat everyone with respect and have grace for members and yourself. People will remember how you treat them so try always find the positive aspects of the people you work with and the people you serve.
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?
Mentorship has helped me in my career and in Delta. When I moved to Minneapolis in 1991, I was a teacher and did not have a job yet. I attended my first sorority meeting and walked in not knowing anyone in the room. I introduced myself and two women walked up to me, Soror Gertrude Barwick and Soror Sandra Woods each asked me what I needed and how they could help me. Those two women checked on me and mentored me in my career and through Delta. When Soror Woods passed away it was my honor and privilege to serve as the Chaplain for Soror Sandra Woods as she transitioned into our Omega Omega Service. I have been grateful for these two women, and many more who have mentored me throughout my life. Mentorship also includes those human beings who can see areas in your life you are unable to see and assist in your blind spots and continue to be a supporter. I am fortunate to have Soror Cheryl Benford Greer who made me in 1987 as a Delta and has been a friend for over 37 years. We have navigated our organizations and life together and have mentored each other over the years. The impact of these relationships are undeniable and have assisted me throughout my life.
Why do you think Watch The Yard is important to Black greekdom?
Watch The Yard is important to Black Greekdom because as I stated earlier, we cannot do this work alone and need multiple organizations to share Information. Watch the Yard is an amazing platform to assist, uplift and unify the stories of other Black Greek organizations. As Black Greek Organizations serving our communities, we do not have the opportunity to operate in isolation but together we are even stronger to serve. Thank you, Watch the Yard, for providing a platform for this work and providing a spotlight for service.
Looking back at it, why do you love being a member of your org?
I love being a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. because I am a member of an organization that supports all my core belief systems: Public Service, Sisterhood, Economic Development, Educational Development, Political Awareness, Physical and Mental Awareness and to do this work with other woman who have the same belief system and core values as I do makes me love my Sorority more and more every day!
Lastly, what does sisterhood mean to you?
The definition of sisterhood is a relationship between sisters, or an association, society or community of women linked by a common interest. For me, sisterhood embodies the definition of sisterhood but is shows itself by accepting each sister in their authentic self and always looking for the best in each person. There may be times that our best is challenged because of life situations, illness, and the seasons of life, however as sisters we continue to show up and support because of our bond of sisterhood if for life.
We at Watch The Yard would like to commend Dr. Stephanie Burrage for her work as the President of the Minneapolis-St. Paul Alumnae Chapter which has a legacy that spans back to 1966.
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Photo Credit: Matthew Kemmetmueller