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Leadership Highlight

Leadership Highlight: Michelle Banks the Basileus of Sigma Gamma Rho’s Gamma Omicron Sigma Chapter in Jacksonville

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 Gamma Omicron Sigma Chapter in Jacksonville, Florida and did an interview with Michelle J. Banks 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. Michelle Banks, who works as a dispatcher, has been in the position of Basileus for 2 Years. 

We interviewed Banks, who is a April 13, 1985 – Seattle Washington 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. 

Read the full interview below. 

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

After many years serving in Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc., I’ve had the privilege to serve under excellent leadership on the local, regional, and national levels, beginning as the Mighty Western Region’s elected Youth Service Coordinator in 1988. In 2020, I was named Sophisticated Southeast Region Rhoer Advisor of the Year, and in 2021, I was named International Rhoer Advisor of the Year during our Special Boule. I wanted to use my previous leadership experiences to be challenged and to take my dedication and sisterhood to the next level by leading the Gamma Omicron Sigma chapter to greater. 

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 already started serving the Jacksonville community by completing the first of five National Projects. August 5th, we kicked off with our annual Operation Big Book Bag project by distributing backpacks and school supplies to the community and adopting a college-bound freshman with dorm essentials. In August, we held a blood drive to raise awareness about the importance of donating blood in the event of a disaster. In October we will be registering people for the Ron Sholes Law Firm Sista Strut Breast Cancer 5K walk/run for our Women’s Wellness initiative. With the surge in domestic abuse among adolescent females, my chapter felt compelled to provide a domestic violence workshop for our community’s young ladies and their parents during Domestic Violence Awareness Month in October. While we prepare for Project Cradle Care in January, we will continue our long-standing tradition of adopting a family at Christmas. Our goal is to provide knowledge and opportunity for our community’s youth to improve their lives. Our secondary objective as we proceed through our national community service programs is to ensure that our efforts ignite change and enlightenment. 

What made you want to pledge Sigma Gamma Rho?

Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc. It was instilled in me as a direct legacy of my mother, Soror Evelyn K. Hunter, that the women of Sigma Gamma Rho were committed to GREATER in the form of service so that progress could continually be made in our community. Being reared in the Blue and Gold made my decision extremely simple. In 2015, my daughter Soror Mikayla J. Hunter joined the Alpha Beta Chapter on the campus of Tennessee State University, following in my footsteps. 

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

Jacksonville, Florida is a military community, and Gamma Omicron Sigma has many active and veteran service members who serve as our Poodles In Boots. We work with two undergrad chapters at Edward Waters University (Delta Upsilon) and the University of North Florida (Rho Phi). We also support three affiliate organizations: Philos, Rhoers and Rhosebuds. We are classified as a Ruby chapter given that we have 50 or more active members. Gamma Omicron Sigma includes members of all ages and generations, and each voice contributes to the chapter’s success. Our superpower is Royalty and Grace as we try to increase our outreach to the Jacksonville community while leaving our mark as the Pearl of the First Coast. The chapter continues to collaborate well with the D9 organizations in the Jacksonville area. 

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

Through sisterhood, Gamma Omicron Sigma provides leadership training, spiritual support, and financial support to both of our undergrad chapters. As President of the Alumni Chapter, I believe that training is a vital tool for preparing our undergrads to lead chapter meetings, implement protocols, and continue the path of our beloved 7 Founders to provide Greater Service, Greater Progress. 

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

We form bonds by sharing meals and spending time getting to know one another in a one-on-one format. We have an annual retreat to strengthen our sisterhood relationships. We spend time checking in on each other and responding when a Soror has a need. Every December, we also throw an epic holiday party. We’re doing it the old-fashioned way; we are earning it. 

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

Know your governing documents; they are your roadmap. Be open-minded, embrace traditions, and welcome new ideas. If possible, shadow the person in the leadership role you are interested in to have a better understanding of the knowledge and commitment required to successfully fulfill those duties. Embracing my undergraduate members as active alumnae members to carry on the sisterhood. Serve with a pure heart and remember your Founders’ beliefs of respect and love for one another. 

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 enabled me to learn and receive constructive feedback from a trustworthy and dependable source who is on my side. It has not been an easy path to maturity, but I have found it beneficial to get honest critique to enhance my gifts and graces in order to advance the sisterhood. Soror Orene Scott, Past Syntakti of the Western Region Ernestine Givan and Ursula Hill, Past Undergraduate Chapter Coordinator of the Western Region Evelyn K. Hunter, Soror Mascelia Blissitt, and Soror Daisy Hicks are the Sigma ladies who guided me down the golden path. 

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

Watch The Yard promotes the D9 on campuses by highlighting their respected chapters in an affirming manner. We didn’t have anything like Watch The Yard when I joined my amazing sorority; I believe it also educates non-greeks on what Greek life is like and, perhaps, encourages children to attend college, particularly an HBCU. 

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

I enjoy learning about the rich history of my trailblazing Founders and seeing the effect we are making in the community. After that, it’s on to sisterhood for me; I’ve met some wonderful ladies during my 38-year Sigma journey. When I moved to the Sophisticated Southeast Region, the bonds I have formed with my Gamma Omicron Sigma sisters helped me become a better woman, a better Soror and a better leader. They laugh with me, they cry with me, correct me and I am fine with that because I know the Glamourous Gamma Omicron Sigma sorors have my back. 

​​Lastly, what does sisterhood mean to you?

Sisterhood is equal parts of unconditional acceptance, honesty, and love. I witnessed our 75th Jubilee in 1997, and 100 years of Greater Service, Greater Progress in 2022. Sisterhood allows me to be Michelle, it allows for mistakes, and it allows for unity where I can depend on my sorors, and they can depend on me. This is a lifetime commitment that I do not take for granted. I AM MY SISTER’S KEEPER! 

We at Watch The Yard would like to commend Michelle J. Banks for her work as the Basileus of the Gamma Omicron Sigma Chapter which has a legacy that spans back to 1962. 

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