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 Brooklyn-Long Island [NY] Alumni Chapter in Brooklyn, NY/ Nassau County Long Island, NY and did an interview with Lee Smith 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. Lee Smith, who works as a Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging Lead, has been in the position of polemarch for one year.
We interviewed Lee Smith, who is a Spring 1991 Iota Omicron 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?
After my initiation as an undergraduate, I spent many years as a social delegate, loosely in touch with the happenings with the Fraternity and would regularly attend our Regional and National conferences, simply for the fellowship. Randomly, I ran into one of my Sands who was serving as our Polemarch at the time, and he implored me to re-engage with the Fraternity on the alumni level. He made provisions for me to reactivate and I quickly went on to serve as the Keeper of Records, Vice Polemarch and am now serving in my second term as Polemarch. In support of our newly elected Grand Polemarch, Jimmy McMickle, his team, and our strategic plan,I echoed his charge for our Brothers to be Informed, involved & invested. I saw the need for Brothers to hold fast to our history, protocols and procedures, because that is the very foundation of our Bond that has survived, now going on113 years. However, to continue into this new millennium, I embraced the potential to inspire and educate our younger Brothers, and at the same time honor our older Brothers. I saw an opportunity to elevate our brand, our service, and our functionality by adopting new ways of working to effectively impact the needs of the communities we serve. Historically, D9 Organizations have always led the charge as it relates to social impact and change for our community. We are now finding that as leaders, especially as Presidents of Alumni Chapters, that there are greater mediums within which we can advance our brand and our cause. Serving on the Alumni level has allowed me to do that for my Chapter.
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?
For this year, as we celebrate our 75th year of service, we will of course be highlighting all of the accomplishments the Chapter has authored and or achieved over that time. However, we do have initiatives that are rolled out by our Grand Chapter and Province that local chapters are responsible for implementing. Brooklyn-Long Island [NY] Alumni prides itself on recently forming strong partnerships with organizations that are concurrently serving the community with The Brooklyn Navy Yard, and Church of the Open Door as a few examples With those partnerships, just this year alone, we have supplied 600 back to school backpacks for school aged children, and supported hundreds of families, who on a monthly basis are allotted supplemental pantry items for those in need. More recently,with our partnership with the NYC Department of Health, we are rolling out forums on mental health for Black men, and hosted a program on our YouTube page called “Brothers for Mothers”, virtual programming in support of breastfeeding education for new mothers that ultimately supports healthy Black and Brown families. As a Regional and National award winner, our Guide Right program is a program whose purpose is the educational and occupational guidance of youth, primarily inspirational and informative in character. We will continue to support our mentees and their pursuit of higher education, while providing cultural excursions like our recent pilgrimage to Accra, Ghana which served to provide our Kappa Leaguers a global view and perspective of the world at an early age. Lastly, with fostering strong relationships with our local elected officials, like New York State Senator Kevin Parker and Assemblywoman Stefani Zinerman, we maintain a strong pulse on what our constituents need in terms of support. Healthcare Fairs, Food and Toy drives and in tandem with our local NAACP chapter, voter registration drives help us support our communities in a more direct and targeted way.
What made you want to pledge Kappa Alpha Psi?
Alpha Phi Alpha and Alpha Kappa Alpha run strong in my family, so I knew of Greek life before I entered college. Looking back, a lot of my community leaders, family friends, teachers and church leaders were members of Greek organizations and being originally from the DMV, Greeks were in and around just about every part of my childhood. When I arrived on the Yard at my alma mater, there were only two active D9 Orgs. And then, there was that one day…. the Delta’s threw a party, and what felt like an army of Nupes rolled up on the Yard, and it was a wrap. There was no other organization to consider after that LOL! From there, my line brothers and I made our way into Kappaland… the rest they say is history. On a more serious note, I think in general, belonging to a brotherhood that was about achievement was a motivation for me to remain connected to a cause and purpose greater than me.
What is it about your specific chapter that makes it so unique?
The Brooklyn-Long Island[NY] Chapter is the second oldest alumni chapter in the New York City metropolitan area, who this year is celebrating 75 years of service. As we were chartered from the New York Alumni Chapter, over the years, members of BLIA went on to charter Queens Alumni in 1990 and most recently the Nassau/Suffolk[NY] Alumni Chapter in 2022. Now collectively, there are 6 alumni chapters in the NY Metropolitan area that are affectionately known as “The Komission”, they include New York Alumni, Brooklyn-Long Island Alumni, New Rochelle-White Plains Alumni, Queens Alumni, Bronx Alumni and Nassau Suffolk Alumni. We are ONE Kappa, but with each of these chapters governing the boroughs of NYC and our suburbs, Brothers represent our areas with pride. If you’re from Brooklyn, you know how we roll. Enough said!
How is your chapter providing for the undergraduate chapters you support?
Here in the Northeast, a large majority of our colleges and universities are PWI’s, that of which has seen statistically low enrollment for Black students, and exponentially even lower numbers for Black males. That poses a challenge not only for Kappa, but all the fraternities in the D9. Currently, as a Chapter we do not have an active undergraduate chapter that we advise or support, but there is a concerted effort by our Province and local leadership to support the reactivation, growth and expansion of our undergraduates in the metropolitan areas we govern. While we don’t have many active undergraduate chapters in the NYC area, we do still as local alumni chapters offer support to any undergraduates that may be matriculating at many of the colleges and universities in the city. Additionally, many Chapters in the area have begun to form alumni associations that are made up of former undergraduate members of a currently inactive chapter with the goal of supporting the reactivation of those chapters and supporting the members once established on the campus much in the way an Alumni chapter provides advisory support.
How do you approach fostering a sense of unity and camaraderie among alumni members, and what strategies have you found effective?
I’m a firm believer that an effective and well balanced chapter utilizes the strengths and talents from all of its members. It is super important for our older members to work alongside our younger members during service and fellowship moments. It’s during service programs that members often find fellowship that drives closer bonds. I intentionally appoint younger Brothers to committees with an older brother as a co chair or vice versa, this allows for teachable moments on both accounts. The younger Brothers learn the traditional functions and protocols of Chapter management and the older Brothers learn new ways of working that keep our younger Brothers actively engaged. In the end, each member is seen, valued and heard, thus fostering trust and levels of appreciation that foster stronger bonds.
What advice would you give to aspiring leaders within your fraternity/sorority who may aspire to take on roles of leadership within alumni chapters?
In recent years we have seen a greater influx of younger members initiated on the Alumni level. For those younger members who were unable to be initiated on the undergraduate level because of an inactive chapter, or because of the lack of Greek life on their yard, their understanding of Greek culture and how we operate is absent. This provides a great opportunity to influence and shape our future leaders. One of the things I have implemented in our Chapter this year is a Leadership Training Academy, whose purpose is to train Chapter Brothers who are interested in officer positions to gain knowledge on what those roles entail. The course is taught once a month by Brothers who have successfully served in those positions in the past. I’m also a firm believer in meeting younger Brothers where they are by placing them on committees that highlight their gifts and talents. Younger Brothers are more likely to remain active and engaged when they’re doing things that they know how to do well, or have an interest in.This in turn allows them to find their purpose in the Chapter, all while learning how to operate in and around the fraternity with newfound purpose and authority.
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?
You know, gone are the days where anyone can say “I built this alone”. The old Beatles lyric says “I get by with a little help from my friends”, and that rings ever true in Kappa. Personally, from childhood, through college and into my professional career, mentors shaped and supported the leader I have become today. In Kappa, and as a secure leader, I find myself inspired by and mentored by younger and older Brothers. To name a few, I am inspired by our current Kappa League director Shawn Mason, his dedication to mentorship for our Kappa Leaguers is unmatched by many. I also honor and respect my Lieutenant Strategus and oldest member of our Chapter, Brother Tommy Singleton, who at 92 years old, faithfully serves the Chapter with energy and zeal that outmatches even our youngest Brothers. My biggest mentors in Kappa however would have to be Brother Michael Brewington, who served as a Province Polemarch and Brother Walter Dogan, a brother whose dedication to this Chapter goes above and beyond what many can’t match. He always reminds me of a mindset that I carry with me and instill in our younger Brothers today, and that is “You can’t do everything, but you can do something for Kappa”. Mentorship ties generations together, it is important to pay it forward.
Why do you think Watch The Yard is important to Black greekdom?
“Watch the Yard” as a platform is important not only for the amplification of Greekdom, but for Black life at colleges and universities across the nation and beyond. As a platform, showcasing the importance of our undergraduates and their collective and individual accomplishments is important and a source of inspiration for future college students. Additionally, forums like this, that highlight the work that Alumni Chapter Presidents are doing, shines a positive light on the need for our undergraduates to continue the work we do as Greek lettered organizations beyond the yard and into the communities we live in.
Looking back at it, why do you love being a member of your org?
I am now what most would call a seasoned or old school Nupe. I have love and respect for all of our D9 organizations, and have dear and trusted friends in each of them, but there simply is nothing like the mystique and gravitas of a man of Kappa Alpha Psi. There still resounds in my spirit a level of excitement when I visit a yard and meet younger Brothers, or if I am traveling through the airport and run into new Brothers I’ve never met. It’s all about a greater sense of belonging to a collective that is like minded, men doing great things and impacting the lives and communities they’re working and living in as a whole.
Lastly, what does brotherhood mean to you?
I’ll take my soapbox for a minute and say In these dynamic and ever-evolving times, the essence of brotherhood holds an even more significant place in my life. As I reflect on my time as Polemarch, I’m reminded of the profound impact that our brotherhood has had on me and my community. To me, brotherhood isn’t just a word; it’s a guiding principle that has the power to uplift, unite, and inspire, regardless of the challenges we face. In today’s world, where isolation and division seem to be growing, brotherhood stands as a beacon of hope and unity. It’s a reminder that we are not alone in our journey. Brotherhood transcends backgrounds, cultures, and opinions, weaving a tapestry of diverse experiences into a single, cohesive narrative. It’s about creating a safe space where everyone’s voice is not only heard but valued. It’s about understanding that our differences enrich us and make us stronger together. In the face of current uncertainty and adversity, brotherhood becomes a formidable support system. It’s the knowledge that a Brother always has your back, ready to stand with you through thick and thin. It’s about fostering an environment where vulnerability is not a weakness but a testament to our authenticity. We share our joys, triumphs, and struggles, knowing that each experience adds another layer to the unbreakable bond we share.
One of the most inspiring aspects of brotherhood is its potential for personal growth. It’s a journey of mutual encouragement and empowerment. As Polemarch, I’ve witnessed brothers pushing each other to exceed their own expectations, to reach for goals they might have considered unattainable. Together, our Chapter has proven that the support and motivation we offer can propel each individual Brother towards greatness. In these current times, brotherhood also means being a force for positive change. We recognize the issues plaguing our society and take it upon ourselves to be leaders who foster understanding, compassion, and progress. We’re not just a group of individuals; we’re a collective that amplifies each other’s voices to champion causes that matter. As we navigate the complexities of the modern world, brotherhood continues to remind us of our shared humanity. It’s a testament to the fact that, no matter how advanced technology becomes or how distant we may feel from one another, the genuine connections we forge through brotherhood will forever remain timeless and powerful. So, when I think about brotherhood in these current times, I am filled with a profound sense of gratitude and hope. It’s a bond that encourages us to rise above challenges, connect on a deeper level, and leave a positive legacy for the generations to come. In embracing the spirit of brotherhood, we are not just members of a fraternity; we are advocates for unity, empathy, and the unwavering belief that together, we can create a better world.
We at Watch The Yard would like to commend Lee Smith for his work as the Polemarch of the Brooklyn-Long Island [NY] Alumni Chapter which has a legacy that spans back to 1949.
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