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Leadership Highlight: Justin Johnson the Polemarch of Kappa Alpha Psi’s Harvey-Markham(IL) Alumni Chapter

In an effort to highlight the people who are leading graduate chapters across the nation, we at Watch The Yard reached out to the brothers of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Inc.’s Harvey-Markham (IL) Alumni Chapter in Harvey and Markham, IL and did an interview with Justin J. Johnson the Polemarch of the chapter. 

The position of Polemarch/president of a Black fraternity chapter is a highly respected role and there is a special pride that one takes. Johnson, who works as a high school athletic director and head varsity boys basketball coach, has been in the position of Polemarch for 2 years. 

We interviewed Johnson, who is a Spring 2016 initiate of his fraternity and talked to him about his 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?

“Training of Leadership” is one our Chapter’s philosophies. Our 7th Past Polemarch, Maurice Dorris, always told me that he saw something in my when I was just a candidate pursing membership into the fraternity. I took on the role of Polemarch, because the leadership before me invested a lot of time and training into make sure that I would be the type of Brother that keep the tradition of “setting the standard” for our chapter. It’s an honor and privilege to hold this seat and be the face and voice for my chapter. It is my duty to show Brothers that you have to be the change you want to see. It has been my goal to increase reclamation to bring brothers back home to Kappa, continue to stress the importance of brother’s participation in community activism, and make sure our chapter’s 20 years of existence is acknowledged and celebrated within that good old Kappa Spirit. 

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?

One of the major initiatives we’re heading is the Real Men Read program, which falls in line with our fraternity’s National Program, Room to Read. As it is eloquently put by our national website, “literacy is the foundation for all future learning yet a quality education remains out of reach for millions of children around the world.” The communities that we service in the south suburbs of Chicago really need our help when it comes to promoting the importance of literacy and academics as a whole. In Chicago Public Schools, 25% of elementary students tested at or above the proficient level for reading. And 15% of high school students tested at or above the proficient level for reading. The surrounding communities pretty much mirror the same statistics. Room to Read envisions a world in which all children can pursue a quality education that prepares them to be fulfilled and make positive change – in their families, communities and the world. 

What made you want to pledge Kappa Alpha Psi?

First and foremost, my uncle told me about Kappa Alpha Psi when I was in middle school. Before he passed away when I was in high school, he told me I should pledge his fraternity. My uncle, Harold Coleman, was initiated Fall of 1969 at Huston-Tillotson University, the Gamma Lambda Chapter. Unfortunately, I never really had an opportunity to talk to him much more about it. I always remembered that he mentioned it. The only other knowledge I had in high school came from watching the TV show “A Different World” and watching the movie “School Daze”. Once I got to my first college, Northern Illinois University, I immediately saw how much of a presence the Epsilon Omicron Nupes had on the yard. Although the Ques were extremely popular at one point and the Alphas had their time of standing out, I knew that Kappa was the organization that I wanted to be a part of. The Nupes let it be known that their purpose was to be the best at everything; academics, sports, events, style, jobs, active in other organizations and clubs, and whatever else there was to be the best at. One of my good friends, Sean Walton, got initiated in the Fall of 1999 at Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville, the Zeta Pi Chapter. He really influenced me and informed me more about the history of the fraternity. Sean told me to do my research on the organization, the founders, the objectives, and also told me how the fraternity was about Achievement. Of course, his stories of the parties, cane twirling, road tripping, and getting attention from women helped as well. Unfortunately, Sean is no longer here and we never really got to BOND as Brothers. Over the course of my younger years, I started to meet different men of Kappa who I forged friendships with, gained mentors, and looked up to. Everything about the fraternity, and the members I met, made me realize that I wanted to be among the best and personally be another representation of Achievement. It became my life mission to continue the legacy my uncle and good friend started and hopefully be an inspiration to generations after me. 

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

The Harvey-Markham (IL) Alumni Chapter (HMAK) will celebrate our 20th Anniversary on January 10, 2024. Within our 20 years, we have operated as a small chapter for 16 of those years. In a short time span we’ve earned North Central Province Small Chapter of the year 5 times (2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2015) and recently Medium Chapter of the Year in 2021. I would like to say we are the epitome of doing the most with what we have. We pride ourselves to be a family more than anything. In some chapters, voices of brothers that are younger in the Bond aren’t heard within the first years of initiation and/or reclamation. Our chapter lets it be known that every opinion matters and that no one’s diamond is larger than the next brother’s. Our social media presence is second to none, and we strive on making things happen. 

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

We don’t directly advise an undergraduate chapter, however, we’ll be available when the Province of our fraternity calls on us to do so. In the meantime, we support all undergraduate initiatives that provide financial assistance for chapter registrations, campus support, and any other obligations they’ll need to operate. Our chapter pride ourselves with making sure we have fellowships to bridge the gap between undergraduate and alumni chapters. Between our annual picnics, annual sports competitions against other Divine 9 organizations, and community outreach initiatives we’re able to connect with undergraduate chapters and let them know that there is Greek life that they can still be excited about after they graduate from school. 

How do you approach fostering a sense of unity and camaraderie among alumni members, and what strategies have you found effective?

All things start with a Proper Planning Session. I feel brothers have to have a meeting of the minds so that we are all on the same page. Every organization bring in so many different personalities, people of different cultures, and backgrounds. Even though every member of Kappa Alpha Psi follow the same 5 objectives, it’s natural that each member have their thoughts on how things should be done. The planning session allows me to provide brothers of my vision, goals, and objectives, and gives them an opportunity to provide their questions, comments, and/or concerns. Camaraderie definitely has to be intentional. Being financial is great, but I emphasize to Nupes that I want to them to attend functions regardless if they are financial or not. Do I want everyone to be financial, yes. What I don’t want to do is make anyone feel that they don’t matter, because they aren’t financial right now. Making members feel like that only financial members matter will drive them away and not want them to be active at all. We just never know what personal issues a person is dealing with. Brotherhood is not based on money, and our Founders didn’t emphasize that either. Sometimes it’s as simple as inviting Brothers to someone’s house or a lounge and watching a sports event with each other. That could be a means of reclamation. It’s great when we all get together and just able to be ourselves outside of the business. We are all human and be going through personal issues at home and at work, and hanging and talking with Brothers could be the very thing that just lets them exhale. So, planning trips, planning outings, or just doing things just because can change the dynamic of the direction a chapter can move in. Being a graphic designer and t-shirt manufacturer, I’ll design and produce a shirt that we all can wear as a chapter for a function. Something small like that can make Brothers feel good. If Brothers feel good, they’ll want to be around more. Once they come around more, they’ll start to be engaged with what’s going on with the chapter. 

What advice would you give to aspiring leaders within your fraternity/sorority who may aspire to take on roles of leadership within alumni chapters?

I encourage the passionate and dedicated people to step up and show out. If you’re not taking on a leadership role out of pure genuine love and that feeling that you’re the best person for the job, you’re going to break. None of us are getting paid to do this and this is a thankless job. It takes a strong and willing person to deal with the business of our organizations, our chapters, and the people in them. We have to manage personalities and understand we’ll never satisfy everyone. Once we make a decision, we have to stand firm on that decision and move forward regardless of the outcome. Future leaders need to understand that, although you may watch and learn from those who came before you, there isn’t one blueprint to leadership. Each leader has to put their own mark on the statue of greatness, while still carrying out the objectives and principles that are supposed to stay in place. To anyone that are called to lead, don’t be afraid. If you’re afraid to fail, you’re not trying. None of us are perfect. No one person ever gets it all right. The main thing that everyone should understand that the integrity of the chapter must always be protected. There will be those that want to go rogue and try to convince you to go against the greater good, but you must be the example and not fold under anyone(s) pressure. After all that being said, I am extremely humbled my chapter trust and anointed me to lead them. This is an honor and a privilege and something I don’t take lightly. I hope that my legacy will be remembered and that I’m making all past and future members of my organization and chapter proud. 

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?

This is hands down my favorite question. MENTORSHIP IS EVERYTHING! If it wasn’t for my mentors in this organization, there isn’t any telling where I would be. There are quite a few people that I can list, but I’ll focus on a select few. First and foremost, Jerry Jenkins of Langston University, the Alpha Pi Chapter (Spr. ’80). He’s the Nupe that educated me on how I should pursue a career in education while striving for a career in coaching high school boys’ basketball. Dr. Corey Levy of Eastern Illinois University, the Theta Gamma Chapter (Spr. ’95) is my current boss/principal at Southland College Prep Charter High School in Richton Park, IL. He changed my life in one phone call. He trusted and believed in me to come and build up the boys’ basketball program at his school. Not only did he give me my first Head Varsity Boys Basketball Coaching job, he gave me my first administrative job as a Dean of Students. Through his mentorship, which sometimes was not the easiest to deal with, he molded me to be someone that could be considered for bigger and better opportunities. Just recently I was offered my dream career role of Athletic Director of the same school while retaining my head basketball coaching position. I owe Dr. Levy a great deal and I am forever grateful for his knowledge and wisdom. While I was pursuing membership into the Bond, Alex Jenkins of Harvey-Markham (IL) Alumni was the example I strived to follow as being a great brother of Kappa Alpha Psi. He carried himself with class, was well respected, became the Vice-Polemarch of our chapter before his new career required him to move, and played a pivotal role in my process. I can name quite a few more, but I’ll end with Aaron T. Bell and James Tate, both (Spr. ’93) of Eastern Illinois University, the Theta Gamma Chapter. Bro. Aaron T. Bell is one of Harvey-Markham’s Charter Members and Past Polemarchs, and I’m very proud to say that James Tate is my Pledge Father. They still to this day keep me grounded, push me to be better, offer me words of wisdom, and always remind me there’s more to be done. 

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

Watch the Yard is the voice the Divine 9 need to speak on everything positive of our entire existence. We’re now living in culture where all of our organizations are fighting to keep our integrity and reputation in-tact. People and organizations are trying to shed negative lights on us, perpetrate membership, and diminish our contributions to society. Watch the Yard is symbolic or being our own newspaper that can tell the world our story, our way, accurately, and make us proud to feel we’re the best of the best. Watch the Yard isn’t just for those who are of our organizations, but are for our cultures as a whole. Watch the Yard tells our story the right way and provides a narration through a lens we can all appreciate. The stories and articles are the visual aid that cements information that no one can alter under false pretense. It’s a movement of sharing a wealth of information of activism, civil rights, history, celebration, and knowledge. This is black history in real time and I love learning about everything great all of our organizations bring to the table. 

Looking back at it, why do you love being a member of your org?

I love the fact that I’m able to say that I’m a small puzzle piece of a picture that’s artwork that represents excellence of black culture. Being a member of Kappa Alpha Psi has given me lifetime friendships, different perspectives that I needed to be introduced to, allowed me to see the world in a different way, changed my life in more ways than one, and always keep my humble and grounded. No one should base their entire existence on membership of anything, but our individual greatness should enhance the lives of those around us when we come together as one. There will never be a time where I think it’s all about me or feel like I’m alone. It’s crazy to know that there were some college students in the early 1900s, dealing with racism, fighting for equality, not having the most money, and sometimes afraid for their lives can create something that has now lasted over 100 years. I’m a part of that history. I am history. It’s humbling to know that what I’m doing today is forging something for someone that I’ll never meet in the future. Most of all, I’m a part of an extended family and will always have a place to call home. 

​Lastly, what does brotherhood mean to you?

Brotherhood is The Bond between men of different ages, generations, races, cultures, religion, creeds, walks of life, ways of thinking, and anything else that makes us different as individuals. True brotherhood makes us family and creates friendships that no one else will be able to comprehend or understand. Brotherhood encourages us to learn from each other and not be afraid of what we don’t understand about one another. We are all God’s gift, and brotherhood is the foundation of why we all can come together and be gifts to each other and be a family. You can not fake being brotherly. Brotherhood can get us through tough times in and outside of our organizations. It’s what enables us to occupy the same space. Most issues should be able to be resolved among members if the true essence of brotherhood is present. Brotherhood is in you, it’s a way of life, it’s a moral and a value, it’s who I am, it’s what I represent, and should last forever. 

We at Watch The Yard would like to commend Justin J. Johnson for his work as the Polemarch of the Harvey-Markham (IL) Alumni Chapter which has a legacy that spans back to 2004. 

Share this on Facebook and help us highlight Johnson’s chapter.

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