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 Alexandria-Fairfax (VA) Alumni Chapter in Alexandria & Fairfax Virginia and did an interview with Walter J. Smiley, Jr. 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. Walter J. Smiley, Jr., who works as a Program Manager for Huntington Ingalls Industries, has served in the position of Polemarch since June 2023.
We interviewed Smiley, who is a Fall 1993 Zeta Beta Chapter 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?
As a military veteran, the value of serving others is deeply rooted in my character. Throughout my Army tenure, I actively engaged in various Alumni Chapters, always seeking opportunities to make a meaningful contribution. As my military career concluded, I evolved from committee roles to leadership positions. Progressing from a Board member to 2nd Vice Polemarch, 1st Vice Polemarch, and eventually 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?
Our chapter has several impactful initiatives this year that directly benefit the local and broader Black communities. Recognizing a significant racial disparity in the field of aviation three years ago, we embarked on a mission to rectify this. Through the collaboration and initial grant support from the Northern Virginia Urban League, we established the Aviation Committee. This committee spearheads beginner flight courses for middle and high school coed students, addressing the opportunity gap. We procured five flight simulators using grant funds, enabling students to practice takeoffs, navigation, and landings from the comfort of our fraternity house. We’ve secured an Advanced Aviation Training Device funding to enhance our capabilities further, promising comprehensive proficiency training. For the past three decades, we’ve consistently orchestrated an enriching summer program known as Kamp Kappa. This week-long event fosters positive outdoor experiences and education for up to 50 young men aged 10-16. Activities encompass swimming, archery, team sports, and a “Street Law” educational program led by esteemed U.S. District Court Judge Brother Gerald B. Lee. Moreover, we extend a unique opportunity to our high school senior African American young men through a Rite of Passage called a Beautillion. Our commitment to youth empowerment thrives under the umbrella of the Guide Right program, which encompasses a diverse range of initiatives, including mentoring, Lego Robotics, and Kappa League. Through these multifaceted programs, our chapter addresses crucial gaps in representation and opportunities and uplifts and empowers the Black community on both a local and broader scale.
What made you want to pledge Kappa Alpha Psi?
The decision to pledge Kappa Alpha Psi, Fraternity Inc., was influenced by personal connections and the impactful examples set by Kappa men in my life. My brother being a Kappa sparked my interest, and the significant impact of Kappa individuals during my upbringing resonated deeply. I was unaware at the time that my high school coaches, community leaders, and influential figures were Kappas, and their commitment to community upliftment and positive change left a lasting impression.
What is it about your specific chapter that makes it so unique?
What sets our specific chapter apart is its exceptional diversity. Our membership spans a wide range, from those in their early 20s to esteemed brothers in their late 70s, 80s, and even 90s. This unique composition presents a remarkable blend of experiences. In our chapter, we have brothers who vividly recall the challenges of the segregation era and the impact of Jim Crow laws, alongside those who stay informed through platforms like TikTok and Instagram. Our members include accomplished individuals such as CEOs, high-ranking military officers, doctors, judges, and those just stepping into their first professional roles after college. This generational spectrum enriches our ability to explore historical contexts while crafting innovative events that resonate across the chapter. The diversity allows us to seamlessly bridge the gap between tradition and modernity, fostering a well-rounded and inclusive environment.
How is your chapter providing for the undergraduate chapters you support?
Our chapter is deeply committed to fostering the success of the undergraduate chapter we support. We prioritize their well-being by allocating funds for essential needs such as insurance and various events. This financial support enables them to focus on their leadership development and academic pursuits. We maintain an open line of communication by inviting them to share updates during our monthly meetings, ensuring that their voices and progress are recognized within our chapter. We create opportunities for collaboration through initiatives like Kamp Kappa, where they actively participate and contribute, reinforcing our collective mission of empowerment and growth.
How do you approach fostering a sense of unity and camaraderie among alumni members, and what strategies have you found effective?
Creating unity and camaraderie among alumni members at AF (Alexandria-Fairfax, VA) is central to our approach. We prioritize inclusivity by affording every member a platform and role within the chapter. An example is our Younger Brothers Committee (YBC), which infuses new energy and ideas into our events. They’ve also introduced digital strategies to optimize resource utilization and prevent redundancy. In parallel, our esteemed Golden Heritage brothers lead their own event planning. Despite these distinct groups, our collective effort ensures that the entire membership is looked after and that our chapter remains cohesive and engaged. This dual approach enhances our unity and strengthens our bonds across generational divides.
What advice would you give to aspiring leaders within your fraternity/sorority who may aspire to take on roles of leadership within alumni chapters?
Begin by embracing the mindset of serving your chapter in whatever capacity you can and prioritizing comprehending the intricate workings of our fraternity/sorority. Invest time in developing personal connections with your fellow members to grasp their unique strengths, which may complement areas where you lack expertise. Remember, leadership doesn’t entail doing everything on your own; it necessitates building a cohesive team that can help identify blind spots and offer diverse perspectives. Prior to entrusting significant tasks to any individual, gain hands-on experience by managing committees. This knowledge will be pivotal as you progress and make informed decisions about delegating responsibilities. By embodying these principles, you’ll be well-equipped to lead effectively within your alumni chapter, fostering unity, growth, and collective success.
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?
As a military veteran, fellow fraternity brothers in the military have guided me. One standout mentor was crucial during my transition from the military to civilian employment. His support and insights helped me start my new career journey with assurance and clarity. This underscores the transformative power of mentorship.
Why do you think Watch The Yard is important to Black greekdom?
Within the world of Black Greek organizations, Watch The Yard plays a crucial role in highlighting the positive impact of the Divine 9. Whether they joined during their undergraduate years or through alumni chapters, these members work together to shape our lives and communities. The impact goes far beyond individual organizations, with joint efforts such as Health Fairs, Community Food drives, and mentorship programs amplifying the reach and effectiveness of the Divine 9. When we unite for these initiatives, both local and broader Black communities stand to gain, exemplifying the strength of our collective commitment.
Looking back at it, why do you love being a member of your org?
Reflecting on my journey, the reasons for my profound love for my organization come into focus. It’s the unwavering brotherhood, the camaraderie, and the shared loyalty among my fraternity brothers that resonate deeply with me. Sometimes, it’s the simple act of receiving a phone call to check in on my well-being or witnessing the next generation embark on their college journey like a line brother’s child. Yet, what truly solidifies my love for being a Kappa is the commitment to achievement in every field of human endeavors. The pursuit of excellence, in all its forms, underscores the essence of what being a part of this organization means to me.
Lastly, what does brotherhood mean to you?
In its simplest form, it’s about being present for your brother or sister, even when they’re unaware of their need for assistance or support.
We at Watch The Yard would like to commend Walter J. Smiley, Jr. for his work as the Polemarch of the Alexandria-Fairfax (VA) Alumni Chapter which has a legacy that spans back to 1976.
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