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Leadership Highlight

Leadership Highlight: Judge Anita Laster Mays the Basileus of Sigma Gamma Rho’s Alpha Lambda Sigma Chapter in Cleveland

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 Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority Inc.’s Alpha Lambda Sigma Chapter in Cleveland and did an interview with Anita Laster Mays, Esq. the Basileus of the chapter. 

The position of Basileus/president of a Black sorority chapter is a highly respected role and there is a special pride that one takes. Anita Laster Mays, Esq., who is an Appellate Court Judge, has been in the position of Basileus for 1 year. 

We interviewed Anita Laster Mays, Esq., who is a Fall 2002 Alumnae Chapter Cleveland, Ohio initiate of Sigma Gamma Rho and talked to her about her position, goals, future and what it means to hold this type of leadership position in the digital age. 

Photo Credit: Earl Williams Photography

Read the full interview below. 

What motivated you to take on the role of alumni chapter president?

I wanted to be president of my local chapter to continue the national initiatives while building local partnerships to have a greater impact in the Cleveland area. In my profession, I have great partnerships and wanted to expose those partners to the mission and work of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority. I wanted to dispel myths and ensure that through innovative and inspirational activities the local community knows that we are here to uplift and educate the community. Additionally, I wanted our membership to remain encouraged knowing that they had a hand in the success. 

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 Women’s Health Initiative is a wholistic approach to health. It focuses on the mind, body, and spirit. Our Soror Hattie McDaniel, died of breast cancer. Our breast cancer initiative focuses on monthly breast exams and support is contracted. We host awareness walks and partner with health agencies to offer free mammograms in the community. Additionally, we host brain health clinics to understand how the brain works and mental health awareness discussions. Finally, we promote exercise and healthy eating. Our goal is to educate the broader community on living a long productive life.

Our SWIM1922 initiative focuses on learning to swim. We are national partners with USA Swim. The drowning rate in minority communities is devastating. African American children ages 5 to 19 drown at rates five-and-a-half times higher than white children. Also, African American children ages 11-12 drown in pools at rates 10 times greater than whites. Sigma Gamma Rho hosts swim clinics in minority neighborhoods to teach children how to swim. Our local partners, Cleveland State University and Rhythm & Stroke, LLC, aid us with our free water safety event to prepare the community for swim season. We have several Sorors that have Olympic swimming medals and if their schedule permits, they will appear at a clinic for an added incentive for the youth. The benefit is to reduce the drowning rate in the community.

Our Soles for Little Souls partnership with The SPEAR Foundation provides underserved children with shoes. In Cleveland Municipal Schools alone, there are approximately 100 – 150 homeless families with school age children reporting to shelters on a weekly basis. This is a very sad statistic. Locally we work with the schools’ resource counselors to identify underserved families to ensure that the children are being served. This initiative assists the parents with one less thing to worry about.

Our Social Action Initiatives focus on voter registration, education and getting registrants out to vote. We also host clinics on estate planning, grand jury and petit jury participation, equal educational access, book banning, human trafficking awareness and any issue affecting one’s rights and fundamental freedoms. 

What made you want to pledge Sigma Gamma Rho?

I wanted to pledge Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc. because of its mission to “enhance the quality of life for women and their families in the U.S. and globally trough community service, civil and social action.” Daily, in Indianapolis, Indiana, seven young educators had to walk past the home of the grand dragon of the Ku Klux Klan, face extreme safety issues, face a cap of 10 African Americans being admitted to college at Butler University (a school that was originally founded to be all-inclusive), and other social inequities decided to gather in 1922 to say enough was enough. They understood that through education and other means that working with women can affect the entire family thereby helping the families reach their full potential in all aspects of life. These forward-thinking women, our FOUNDERS, inspired me to continue the dream of working with women and their families no matter what obstacles I might face. 

Photo Credit: Earl Williams Photography

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

I think that Alpha Lambda Sigma is unique because we focus on our membership’s health and relationships so that we can effectively help others in the community. If your house is not in order, you will be spreading mess to the community. 

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

We provide for our undergraduate chapters by assisting with leadership skills, mentoring and financial support. We have a graduate advisor dedicated to each graduate chapter. Undergraduates are also invited to our chapter meetings to enhance what the graduate advisors have taught them about conducting Sorority business but more importantly it’s an opportunity to interact with the graduate members. We keep their calendar so that graduate members can support their events. And finally, make them aware of internship opportunities. 

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

To foster a sense of unity and camaraderie among alumnae members, we have an annual retreat. The first day focused on sisterhood by having a fun Friday. We play games such as Twister, musical chairs, BINGO, Spades, Bid Whist etc. We want to relax and enjoy each other’s company. Saturday was Sigma business where we focus on relationships through mental health awareness, conflict resolution, undergraduate panel discussions, and chapter/committee goals. We want to ensure that if there is an issue to resolve it quickly, think before you speak because you cannot un-ring the bell, and to have buy-in, inform members at the beginning of the year what is planned. We do not want any surprises 

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

I would advise aspiring leaders to not take things personally. In any leadership position you must make tough decisions. But make sure that the decisions you make benefit the majority and not a selected few. Not everyone will agree with your decisions, because you cannot please everyone. If you keep the mission and goals of the Sorority, be ethical and moral in your decisions then you will be alright. I am a spiritual person, so I pray and meditate before doing anything. Find what channel you to do what is right. 

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 in my personal life has gotten me to where I am as an appellate judge. That is why I know how important it is. Within, Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc. my late cousin Rev. Dr. Leatrice Emeruwa taught me about leadership within the Sorority. She joined Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc. in 1947 at Howard University. She was able to give me history, she served in various positions locally, regionally, and nationally, and was therefore able to advise me. I was also able to watch her serve with dignity and honor. Past Central Region Syntaktes Tiffany Hightower, who appointed me to my first regional chair, social action committee. This allowed me to prepare for a national appointment by Past International Grand Basileus Deborah Catchings-Smith, to serve as the national social action chair. Then I was mentored by Past International Grand Basileus JoAnn Loveless on how to organize and manage a national event, our Centennial. I served on the Centennial committee as the advocacy chair. Finally, our current Grand Basileus Rasheeda S. Liberty, mentors me as I continue to serve as the national social action chair. 

Photo Credit: Jim Baron at Baron Photography

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

I believe that Watch the Yard is important because it gives readers an opportunity to experience Black culture through the lives of actual participants. It exposes readers to Black culture and inspires future leaders to continue to contribute to their community. It shows readers that there is life and service after college. 

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

Looking back, I love being a member of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority because it has not disappointed me. It has lived up to the sisterhood, scholarship and service that was offered me over twenty years ago. Our motto “Greater Service, Greater Progress” continues to inspire me to provide positive impact in our communities. 

​​Lastly, what does sisterhood mean to you?

Sisterhood means a relationship between women that share a common interest or goal. The relationship can be by blood as well since I am a legacy. It means supporting one another and being honest with one another. It means working together for the greater good. It is togetherness. 

We at Watch The Yard would like to commend Anita Laster Mays, Esq. for her work as the Basileus of the Alpha Lambda Sigma Chapter which has a legacy that spans back to 1942. 

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