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 Charlotte (NC) Alumni Chapter in Charlotte, NC and did an interview with Justin Neal 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. Neal, who works as a Senior Operations Analyst in Claim Operations at Travelers Insurance, has been in the position of Polemarch for 2 years.
We interviewed Justin Neal, who is a Spring 2004 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?
Initially, I joined the alumni chapter to simply pay my dues and contribute were needed. I wasn’t looking to be in leadership. I served on one or two committees just doing my part. I took on a chairmanship of the Social Committee simply because no one else would. Being the Social Committee Chairman isn’t easy and can be intimidating for some. You can succeed publicly. And you can fail publicly. I ended up being very successful in that role. I continued to be given more responsibility. And most of the time I had a positive impact on whatever I did. I served as Historian and Assistant Keeper of Records (Secretary). I realized I was already acting and doing the work of a leader, just without the title. So, I decided at that point to go ahead and make it official. Our chapter has two Vice Polemarchs (Vice President), I became 2nd Vice Polemarch in 2019 and in 2021 the chapter elected me as Polemarch.
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?
This year our chapter is expanding our monthly STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) Day event. Once per month, for kids 8-16 years old. We host STEM Day at our Kappa Hall which is in a historically black area of west Charlotte. We strive to expose STEM to as many kids in our local community as possible regardless of where they live and economic status. One of our brothers, Willie James, is the Founder of Green Kids Science Club and provides tons of different activities for kids to do from dissecting frogs to building robots to building self-propelled cars (which the kids get to keep) all FREE of charge! We believe that exposing kids to these areas will encourage them to pursue STEM in school and as a career. STEM is the way of the future! Secondly, election season is swiftly approaching and as usual we encourage voting and voter registration. We want to go a step further this year since a major school bond referendum will be on our local ballots in November. We are in talks with county officials to host a forum to help voters understand what the school bond referendum is, what schools are impacted, and what it means for the city and county financially. We believe the more informed voters are, the more likely they are to vote and encourage others to vote as well.
What made you want to pledge Kappa Alpha Psi?
I am only child and had no male Greeks in my family. So, when I learned that I could get as many brothers as I wanted by joining a fraternity, that piqued my curiosity AND attention. I participated in a couple of Greek mentorship programs in High School (including the Kappa’s), but still wasn’t fully sold yet. By the time my sophomore year at NC A&T was finished I had an opportunity to see all the frats on the yard and the final straw that did it for me, was when I went to a Kappa Party at Fluids Nightclub. It was THAT night, I told myself I was going to be a NUPE! All the frats did community service and had leaders in various aspects of student life. But the Kappas just carried themselves differently. The way they dressed, their reputation on campus, and how they interacted with students (and with each other), was what I could envision for my future self. I was talking with one of the brothers, and he said to me, “A Kappa Man’s reputation precedes him before he walks into a room. A smooth, good-looking, calm, and collected gentleman that is about achievement. Is that you?” And the rest is history.
What is it about your specific chapter that makes it so unique?
Our chapter is in a growing metropolitan area. That has allowed the Charlotte (NC) Alumni Chapter to become the largest chapter in the fraternity, with 300+ active members. Our chapter is divided evenly across age groups and between alumni and undergraduate initiates. That diverse representation of perspectives within our chapter allows us to provide a well-rounded experience for brothers of all ages and backgrounds. Many alumni chapters have the reputation of older members being resistant to change and not giving up control. Not our chapter. The older brothers allow new leaders to emerge and foster new ideas, which allows our chapter to be more progressive than most chapters. One of the reasons we were recognized as the 2023 Paul Waymond Caine Alumni National Chapter of the Year! Currently, we are building our SECOND frat house, called “Charter Hall” on our 3-acre property. The facility will be a commercial meeting space where the chapter can hold monthly meetings but rented to the public for events as well. Our current frat house, called “Kappa Hall” will be renovated into a Brother’s Only Lounge with comfortable seating, gaming tables, drink/snack bar, etc. The new projects will allow the chapter to enhance the fraternal experience for brothers in Charlotte, for business and pleasure. The chapter has coined the term for the entire property our “Kappa Kampus.” Scheduled to be completed in Summer 2024.
How is your chapter providing for the undergraduate chapters you support?
Our chapter has five undergraduate chapters under our advisement: Alpha Epsilon (Johnson C. Smith University), Gamma Delta (Livingstone College), Zeta Delta (UNC Charlotte), Zeta Sigma [INACTIVE] (Barber Scotia College) and Pi Mu (Davidson College). Kappa Alpha Psi is an undergraduate fraternity, and we provide continuous mentorship and assistance to our undergraduate chapters inside AND outside of Charlotte. In 2019, we created the Undergraduate Kickback Initiative. Whenever an inactive alumni brother joins the chapter, we send $50-$100 of his dues back to the chapter where he crossed as an undergraduate. Imagine the impact of your undergraduate chapter receiving a check for $100 a couple of times in one semester. To date, our Undergraduate Kickback Initiative has provided over $10,000 to undergraduate chapters across the country! One thing we recognized is that no matter how someone feels about the organization, they will always have a love for the chapter where they first joined the organization. It helps grow our alumni chapter and financially supports undergraduate chapters. A true win-win scenario. Secondly, Kappa Alpha Psi has a national program called the Undergraduate Leadership Institute, where 80-100 undergraduate brothers are selected and receive an all-expense paid weeklong trip of mentoring, team building, and career development. Our chapter decided to do something similar on a local level for just one day for the brothers in the chapters we advise, calling it the 704 Undergraduate Leadership Summit. We allow the younger brothers to discuss topics important to them and get coaching where they need and/or want it.
How do you approach fostering a sense of unity and camaraderie among alumni members, and what strategies have you found effective?
Being in a large alumni chapter, we recognize that everyone is coming from various areas of the fraternity. Undergrad-made, alumni-made, HBCU grads, PWI grads, older, younger, and various parts of the country. We build community and camaraderie from the inside out. We have geographical and affinity groups within the chapter where brothers with similar neighborhoods or interests can interact. Ex: Northside group, South Charlotte group, Steele Creek group, bourbon/whiskey/cigar group, fitness/running group, golfing group (Red Diamonds), even a gun enthusiast group (Kappas Bustin Kaps). Each group has separate meetups and ways for brothers to interact outside of normal chapter meetings. We have found THAT is where real relationships are established and grown.
What advice would you give to aspiring leaders within your fraternity/sorority who may aspire to take on roles of leadership within alumni chapters?
Ask yourself why? Don’t seek leadership to become popular or famous. Leadership means sometimes making an unpopular decision or holding others accountable. You can’t be a successful leader trying to appease everyone. But, if you want to lead in your organization because you genuinely want to make your organization better, regardless of what’s in it for yourself…DO IT! Black greekdom needs more leaders especially as our older leaders continue to age. It’s time for a new generation of leaders to step up, take on the responsibility, and move our organizations forward.
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 played a significant role for me to become a successful Polemarch. The first thing I did as a new Polemarch was I had a meeting with the Past Charlotte Alumni Polemarchs. It was an opportunity for them to share their successes and failures with me, hear their expectations of me (if any), as well as a time for me to share my ideas and thoughts and hear their feedback for the direction I wanted to take the chapter. The recent Past Charlotte Alumni Polemarchs especially have been great mentors for me over the past two years while I have been Polemarch: Carlos Watson (22nd Middle Eastern Province Polemarch), Richard Sumpter, Anton Durrah, and Olanda Carr, Jr.. Each of them provides a different message, tone, and perspective that continues to mold me today.
Why do you think Watch The Yard is important to Black greekdom?
Watch The Yard is important to Black Greekdom because they always create quality content not for just one organization but for all of them. You may think you are operating at your peak, then see another organization get posted on Watch the Yard working on a similar initiative killing the game! Achievement and success are contagious, Black Greekdom needs to see those frequent reminders of what we are capable of and receive that motivation to keep striving for excellence.
Looking back at it, why do you love being a member of your org?
I love being a brother of Kappa Alpha Psi for the friendships I have gained over the past 19 years. I’ve given my time, talent, and treasure to the fraternity for sure. But, the friendships, brotherhood, career development, and resources I have received have far exceeded my expectations. Knowing I can travel anywhere in the world and having a brother there to look out for me at a moment’s notice is priceless.
Lastly, what does brotherhood mean to you?
To me, brotherhood means going the extra step for someone, even when you don’t want to. It means giving someone the benefit of the doubt when they may not deserve it. It means replacing the cursing out with a discussion to understand why. It means being held accountable and not taking it personally. It means pushing someone to be better than they perceive themselves to be. It means being there for someone when they think they can hold it down on their own. It means putting the group over the individual.
We at Watch The Yard would like to commend Justin Neal for his work as the Polemarch of the Charlotte (NC) Alumni which has a legacy that spans back to 1944.
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