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Leadership Highlight

Leadership Highlight: Sylvia Davis the Basileus of Zeta Phi Beta’s Zeta Tau Zeta Chapter in Chicago

Article Photo Credit: Hammond Photo Design Studios and Black Butterfly Photographer

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 Zeta Phi Beta Sorority Inc.’s Zeta Tau Zeta Chapter in Chicago, IL and did an interview with Sylvia L. Davis 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. Sylvia Davis, who works as Branch Chief of the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, has been in the position of Basileus since July 1, 2020.

We interviewed Davis, who is a January 7, 2022 initiate of the Zeta Tau Zeta Chapter of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. 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?

My motivation for taking on the role of alumni chapter president was quite simple, I believe in the founding principles of my beloved organization. From the moment I was initiated into Zeta Tau Zeta Chapter of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Incorporated I began experiencing what it means to be a part of something larger than myself displayed in real time. I saw chapter members consistently giving of themselves for the benefit of the community. Initially, I was not interested in seeking the office of chapter president; however, my love for the organization and my chapter coupled with several chapter members encouraging and empowering me to pursue a leadership position motivated me to run for the office. My intent was and has continually been to fulfill the legacy of the founding members of our organization and our chapter’s charter members by diligently working to lead Zeta Tau Zeta Chapter into the next decade. 

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?

The international programmatic focus for our organization this year is “The Extraordinary Power of S.H.E. (Social, Health and Justice)”. Unfortunately, we have witnessed and, in some instances, experienced certain rights of the social, health and justice systems being under attack resulting in the demise of various freedoms we may have taken for granted in the past. Zeta Tau Zeta Chapter, Zeta Amicae of Chicago and the Zeta Tau Zeta Youth Auxiliaries will use our collective voices to tap into our creativity by planning our programming, events, and activities around the international programmatic focus as we embrace the cultural shift required for change to occur in our communities one person at a time. 

What made you want to pledge Zeta Phi Beta?

I had always wanted to be a member of a Greek letter organization. After graduating high school, I became a full-time employee for the federal government. Once I began pursuing my undergraduate degree, I thought I had missed my opportunity to join a sorority until I discovered information about alumni chapters. Through my research I found the principles of my organization, Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Incorporated, aligned ideally with my personal objectives. Ultimately, I had a conversation with the membership chair at which time, I knew Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Incorporated was the organization for me, so I began my membership pursuit. 

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

What makes my chapter unique is that Zeta Tau Zeta Chapter is the oldest graduate chapter in the State of Illinois. It was chartered by an extraordinary group of women who are affectionally known as the “Fabulous 57”. Five of our charter members are still active in our chapter today: Evelyn Byrdsong, Antoinette Kirkwood, Dolphin Pierce, Dr. Elvie Rhone, and Fay Walker. Our chapter is comprised of multi-generational “Finer Women” with representation of individuals from the Silent Generation all the way to Generation Y. Lastly, we are a “chapter of leaders”. Each member of our chapter understands there is an expectation that they will eventually matriculate into a leadership role. 

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

Currently, we do not advise an Undergraduate Chapter. However, in the past we ensured that our undergraduates were apprised with mentorship opportunities, financial assistance and support. Upon receipt of their undergraduate degree, we encourage them to transfer immediately to a graduate chapter. Our chapter embraces the undergraduates and provides them with a platform to continue to grow in the organization. 

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

At the conclusion of our most recent sorority year, we surveyed our chapter members by posing a question “What is Your Why?”. We believe it is imperative for individuals to remember why they pursued membership, so they can stay connected to our organization. Our upcoming chapter retreat will have programs, activities, and discussions on the “What is Your Why”? topic. Our intention is to use our “why” to strengthen the foundational core of sisterhood in our organization. 

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

My advice for those aspiring to serve in leadership roles within alumni chapters is to educate themselves on the organization’s structure and governance as well as the culture of their specific chapter. Having a thorough knowledge of the organization’s governing documents, more specifically, those of their chapter, can help to ensure they understand the requirements for the leadership position they wish to pursue. Additionally, I would advise aspiring leaders to join various committees until they find the one that speaks to their heart. I would strongly discourage anyone from pursuing a position they are not passionate about, primarily because chapter members will notice their actions. Further, when leadership opportunities arise that stir their passion, they should present themselves to be open to pursuing them which will present a platform for chapter members to witness how fantastic they truly are. Potential leaders should focus on building relationships as well as allowing others to mentor them. Finally, aspiring leaders should be mindful that though it is important to meet the qualifications on paper, it is crucial for them to remain authentic, adaptable, and empathic. 

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?

To begin, the definition of “mentor” does not touch the surface of the true meaning of this small, yet powerful word, and its impact on my Zeta and personal life. Zeta Tau Zeta Chapter has a reputation for mentoring its members by ensuring they are prepared and equipped with the hard and soft skills required to be great leaders. I am blessed to have been mentored by our charter members for the sheer fortitude it took for the formation of this chapter The extraordinary women who preceded me as president: Evelyn Byrdsong (charter member), Melody Byrd, Evangeline Johnson, Dr. Anita Ward and Elizabeth Stevenson, for their knowledge. The fabulous Cheryl J. Rutherford and Latisha Sanders, for speaking this office into my spirit and continuing to pour into and motivate me. The previous and current chapter officers: Dana Drummer, Kim Stegall, Jeena Bradley, Clara Smith, Faith Lindsey, Wenona Rhodes, Alicia Cole, Dr. Demetris Hogan, Marcia Lewis, Tashi Hamilton, Elizabeth Stevenson and Jhonte Winters who encourage and inspire me. The support and authenticity of Michelle Robinson since we began our journey into Zeta together. Last but not least, I would be remised if I did not mention that I have been mentored, in some form, by each member of the chapter. As stated by Ken Blanchard “It’s been true in my life that when I’ve needed a mentor, the right person shows up”. Thank you to all my mentors for showing up. 

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

I have found many people do not truly understand the impactive roles that Black Greek Letter Organizations have in their communities. Unfortunately, I have encountered several people who have implied our organization is a “gang”. Of course, I used the opportunity to educate them on the three Ws, “why we exist”, “who we are”, and “what we do”. In my opinion, “Watch the Yard” is playing an influential role in disseminating information in regards to Black Greekdom to the world while offering a sneak peek into the good works being done across the world by each organization. 

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

I love being a member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Incorporated because we are operating in as well as standing on the principles of our Five Founders while using creative and innovative ways to ensure our lifelong sustainability not just for our good, but for the good of the world. 

​​Lastly, what does sisterhood mean to you?

For me, Sisterhood is merely a word if there is no action behind it. I do believe, the act or art of Sisterhood is reflected in OUR words and OUR deeds, but more importantly, it is demonstrated in OUR actions toward each other. 

We at Watch The Yard would like to commend Sylvia L. Davis for her work as the Basileus of the Zeta Tau Zeta Chapter which has a legacy that spans back to . 

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