In an effort to highlight the people who are leading graduate chapters across the nation, we at Watch The Yard reached out to the sorors of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority Inc.’s Sigma Beta Zeta Chapter in Minnesota and did an interview with Amber Jones 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. Jones, who is an Inclusion & Community Engagement Associate at the Minnesota Historical Society, has served in the position of Basileus for two years.
We interviewed Jones, who is a Spring 2014 initiate of her sorority’s Kappa Pi Chapter at the University of Minnesota 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 does it mean to be a chapter president to you?
The answer to this question has changed and continues to change as I grow as a leader among my sorors. I have been a chapter president twice in my Zeta career; once as an undergraduate for the Kappa Pi chapter, and now in Sigma Beta Zeta chapter. I entered my current role with just 3 years in my organization with tons of support from the sorors in my chapter. We were very small then, but have nearly doubled our membership during my tenure and continue to grow as our Centennial approaches.
Since I have been a chapter president twice, I thought it would be valuable to share the changing perspectives I’ve had on the role. As an undergraduate, I saw value in my productivity and the ability to do the work effectively as prerequisites for leadership. However, you quickly realize that being an effective president is not so much on ‘doing the work,’ but about how you are creating a space and ushering in a culture of inclusion, imagination, enthusiasm, and commitment. It is about holding your sisters up with the support and guidance needed to do their jobs well. It is about being open to new ideas to take our service to the local community to the next level. It is about encouraging others to take the next step in building their leadership in Zeta and in life. And it is about getting out of the way, because at some point, your time as president will end, and hopefully the work you have done has made room for the next person to guide the chapter to the next level. I have found more joy and fulfillment in encouraging growth in my sorors than in any other facet of my role as a chapter president.
What specific initiatives is your chapter heading up this year and how do you think they will improve the surrounding community?
This is an exciting time to be a member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Incorporated, as we are just months away from celebrating our Centennial. For Sigma Beta Zeta chapter, we are focused not only on building on our current service initiatives, but also doing our part to celebrate 100 years and honor our Five Founders with our Minnesota community. To highlight a few initiatives, we launched our Amicettes youth auxiliary for girls ages 9-13 last year, and we are committed to its growth and mentoring the next generation of leaders. Our biggest service initiative is March of Dimes, and we are committed to surpassing our fundraising totals from last year, in which we reached an annual high of $1,685 and was the Top NPHC team in the state of Minnesota.
We are also committed to welcoming our sorors home during our national Reclamation initiative, which is very important as our Centennial approaches. This has been the most beautiful experience, as many sorors are so excited to come home to Zeta and celebrate our organization. It truly feels like an extended homecoming, and to be able to open our arms and build even deeper relationships is a blessing. We want all sorors to experience such a historic moment that is once-in-a-lifetime, and it is also our leadership’s intention to ensure our chapter is a space where sorors can see themselves furthering their Zeta journey.
What made you want to pledge Zeta Phi Beta?
Though my organization does not “pledge,” in short, Zeta Phi Beta’s legacy, the sisterhood from the sorors in my community, and the commitment to service drove me to join my organization. I’m a history nerd, so when I did (and continue to do) my research, one thing that struck a chord with me was their steadfast commitment to serving their local communities. This was important to me as an aspiring scholar of Black women’s history to learn of the many narratives of Zeta women that inform both my personal and professional life. The stories of women like Zora Neale Hurston (writer and anthropologist), Maggie Lena Walker (the first Black women to open a bank) and Alberta Odell Jones (activist & civil rights attorney) captivated me and grew my interest. Second, the women in my chapter were leaders, but they were also accessible. They cared to see me fully, and invested in my growth as a woman, not just a person interested in their organization, and that built the foundations of a genuine sisterhood. Finally, Zeta women show up and work hard in their communities regardless of the recognition, and that aligned with my values as a servant leader.
What is it about your specific chapter that makes it so unique?
We have so many different experiences represented in Sigma Beta Zeta chapter. There are those like me who joined via Kappa Pi and transferred after graduation; those who are Minnesota transplants from other parts of the country; those who joined Zeta via graduate chapter; young professionals; mid-career professionals; single women; women with families; elders and Zeta doves (sorors with 50+ years of membership); and everything in between. We welcome this diversity and strive for a culture of inclusion in our practices and sisterhood. There is so much to learn from each other in the multitude of ways our sorors have experienced Zeta over the years, and I believe we are better for it, especially in the ways we approach our business as a chapter and in our relationships.
Sigma Beta Zeta chapter is also a chapter of leaders. ¾ of current and past State Directors are active members in our chapter, and there’s a strong reputation of leadership on all levels of the organization among our members. This immense wealth of knowledge and experience has been essential to both my growth and the growth of other members in my chapter. Frankly, I would have never seen myself as ready to lead my graduate chapter at such a young age in Zeta if it was not for the support of the leaders who came before me that I have the privilege to learn from every day in my chapter.
We now live in a digital world, what do you think alumni chapters across all orgs need to do to represent themselves online in 2019?
Living in a digital world offers all organizations in the NPHC greater access to our communities and stakeholders, and it also offers us the ability to show how we are striving to be relevant in the face of a rapidly changing culture and world. As our organizations look towards the next 100 years, we need to make sure graduate/alumni chapters can show we are grasping the pulse and responding to the needs of our communities. Our members collectively hold a tremendous amount of capital and influence across all sectors, and the digital space is one of the prime spaces we can mobilize it in service to our community. As we further refine our “brand” in the digital space, we need to not only be concerned about our image and what message people receive about our organization on face value, but also how are we mobilizing our membership to be engaged in the current struggles we face. In 2014, Zeta Phi Beta created the GET ENGAGED™ initiative to do just that, at the height of the Movement for Black Lives, to mobilize our membership around criminal justice reform, media diversity, civic engagement, and public policy. Initiatives like these depended on utilizing the digital space to mobilize members and engage in the collective actions taking place. We need more initiatives like these as we look to the work ahead of us.
What does leadership mean to you?
I addressed some of this in the first question, so without overlapping too much, I believe at the root of leadership is connection. It is creating a space that vulnerability can exist, as it is critical to building trust and connection. When people trust you, they are willing to work with you and be led by you. When they see you embracing your flaws and being honest with your struggles while also striving to be a good leader, it humanizes the role and allows people to better see themselves as a future leader. As a favorite of mine, Brené Brown, says, “you have to get in the arena.” That means that leadership takes a tremendous amount of introspection and self-work. People will criticize and challenge you–sometimes for growth, sometimes for harm. You need to have discernment in which is which, and take the time to reflect on the criticism for growth instead of avoiding it, as it will make you a better person and a more effective leader.
Ultimately, I see leadership in being the connector and the convener. I want to ensure I am occupying the right amount of space so that others can exist fully. I am not at the center; I just bring skilled and passionate people together to ensure the best quality work can be built. I can tell you confidently that it is my team of board members and committees that work the hardest, and as a leader, I have to acknowledge that, support them, and recognize their accomplishments often for a strong group culture to exist.
Why do you think Watch The Yard is important to Black greekdom?
Watch the Yard is the first platform of its size and reach I have seen that shows a holistic image of Black Greekdom. It offers nuance to the Black Greek experience that transcends the most visible images of our culture, which often showcases stepping, strolling, new member presentations, etc. It enhances our ability to show potential members all of the benefits Greek life has to offer, from leadership development, to service, to scholarship, to expanding your network, to sisterhood & brotherhood. Even creating a platform to highlight local leaders from chapters like this is an amazing idea and expands who gets to be seen as a leader in the digital space. Thank you again for this opportunity!
What does sisterhood mean to you?
Sisterhood is one of the most important aspects of my life. I continue to be humbled by the sisterhood extended to me by my sorors. They have been integral in my development as a woman. They have seen me struggle and found it within themselves and their resources to support me, and they are often the first people to do so. When I am wrong, they hold me accountable in sisterly love and always choose to help me as I grow and do better. They have allowed me in their lives with fullness and compassion as they grow and mature, and it is a blessing to have the opportunity to walk with women through the changes of life. My sisters are getting married, having children, advancing their careers, and I get the privilege to support and celebrate them through those transitions, and vice versa as my journey shifts and progresses as well. As an only child, this is an experience that was not inherent to my upbringing in the same way those with siblings experience, so I cherish it on a different level. When I think of the deepest relationships I have with women outside of my family, my sorors are the first that come to mind. I can say confidently that our sisterhood is truly for a lifetime.
How is your chapter providing for the undergraduate chapters you support?
We sponsor currently the only undergraduate chapter in the state of Minnesota, Kappa Pi. Our advising and support is very active. A number of members were initiated through Kappa Pi, including myself, so it is important to keep the mentor relationship strong and also show how their Zeta journey will grow and blossom through transitioning to a graduate chapter after graduation. In addition to our designated Graduate Advisor, multiple sorors will volunteer to step in shows with them, attend their programs, offer career/personal advice or financial support, and ensure they have access to conferences and other leadership opportunities in our organization. We want them to know they have the capacity to do great things as undergraduates; our Founders were undergraduates and constantly pushed the boundaries of what they could accomplish as collegiates, and they can do the same. They are our future leaders of Zeta, so we want them to have access to everything they need to grow and walk in their destiny.
We at Watch The Yard would like to commend Amber Jones for her work as the Basileus of the Sigma Beta Zeta Chapter which has a legacy that spans back to 2000.