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Leadership Highlight: Elisha Winters the Basileus of Sigma Gamma Rho’s Omicron Sigma Chapter in Memphis

Leadership Highlight: Elisha Winters the Basileus of Sigma Gamma Rho’s Omicron Sigma Chapter in Memphis

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 Omicron Sigma Chapter in Memphis, TN and did an interview with Elisha Winters 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. Winters, who works as a Marketing Coordinator / Graphic Designer, has been in the position of Basileus for 1 year. 

We interviewed Winters, who is a Fall 2005 / Theta Phi Chapter 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: Kristopher Tabor Photography

Read the full interview below. 

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

My motivation to seek leadership was simply to empower individuals to feel comfortable bringing their gifts, talents, and skills to the table, equip members with the tools that will help them to be successful in their respective roles within the chapter, and facilitate evolution within the chapter by streamlining processes, establishing standard operating procedures, and introducing technologies that enabled us to be relevant, effective, and efficient within our operations. 

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?

This year, our chapter is striving to not only be in line with our international service initiatives but also address the specific needs of community with the city of Memphis, such as the following: SWIM 1922, RHOmania, March of Dimes, and our Annual Youth Symposium. For Swim 1922, an international partnership with USA Swimming, we provide trainings on water safety to prevent drownings within African American communities. 70 percent of African American children do not know how to swim, and the training provided reduces the level of fear of learning how to swim. RHOmania is our signature debutante program and gala. For over 50 years, this event affords us the opportunity to provide scholarships to young ladies in high school, promote the importance of learning how to be a lady, highlight and honor leaders in service within the community, and provide donations to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital – where a Chapter Member’s daughter was a patient for many years. During our March of Dimes/March for Babies campaign, we solicit donations to assist in the prevention of premature births and infant death. Our chapter is this year’s regional leader in most funds raised within the Southeastern Region of our sorority. Our Annual Youth Symposium is a 1-day conference for middle and high schoolers that provides presentations on human trafficking, school bullying, healthy nutrition, tutoring, etc. Each year, we seek to host 50-100 children within the Memphis Metropolitan Area. 

Photo Credit: Kristopher Tabor Photography

What made you want to pledge Sigma Gamma Rho?

The reason I joined Sigma Gamma Rho is because I truly felt welcomed into the organization. The love and acceptance warmed my heart. I felt safe and secure. I was embraced for not who I was going to be but who I was at that moment. Knowing that I was a seed who would be watered and nurtured to be myself but greater made the decision that much easier. 

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

“Outstanding” Omicron Sigma is known for our service. As a past award recipient of Regional and International Chapter of the Year within our sorority, we have set the standard for service hours and addressing various needs within the community. Wherever there is a need, that is where our chapter will be. Our chapter slogan is “Outstanding in Service, Outstanding in Memphis.” 

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

In addition to financial support, our chapter is wherever our undergraduates are. Most of our members are alumni of the undergraduate chapters in the areas. We pride ourselves on taking care of our babies, because they are the lifeline of our organizations. From step show prep, service project development and participation, tutoring, and general sisterly love, we are a part of their sorority life, as well as their academics and family. 

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

My vision for my chapter is “There is no place like home…like OS”. I desired to provide a place where every chapter member felt that this is where they belonged. I am a people’s president. I want to get to know the members and bridge the gap. I seek to cancel the divide. I pride myself on being able to talk to any one of the members of our chapter. I learn from everyone, and this is the environment that is promoted within the chapter. Omicron Sigma is blessed to be comprised with an age range of 20 to 80 years old, and it is important that each member knows and feels that no matter the age, the background, the upbringing, and the experience that we are sisters. The seasoned members have the wisdom and experience. The middle range members have the drive and passion. The younger/newer members have the energy and fresh perspective. Putting all that together is a winning formula for service and progress. We commit ourselves to helping each other no matter what. We stick together. My motto is “Sisters disagree, but don’t destroy.” 

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 is to challenge and allow yourself to learn and grow. Don’t have the mindset of ‘I can’t do that’. Ask yourself, “what can I do in order to be impactful?” Everyone has something to contribute, but you must allow yourself to leap into leadership. You won’t have all the answers and you might even make a few mistakes, but if you have a heart to help and a spirit to encourage and inspire others, you will be surprised how great of a leader you can become. 

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?

Without mentorship, I would not have allowed myself to step into leadership. There are many Sorors who have pushed me and challenged me to ignore my inhibitions and reservations about leading and being front and center. To see our International and Regional Board of Directors face challenges and continue to thrive and quickly pivot to adapt to those unforeseen changes that occurred during the pandemic has inspired me greatly. If you desire greatness, you must not be afraid to be great. 

Photo Credit: Sarah Cooper Photography

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

Watch The Yard is important because it showcases Black Greekdom in a positive and necessary light. We are more than stepping and strolling. Members of Black Greek Lettered Organizations are community leaders, educators, government officials and members of congress, and change agents within the Black Community and beyond. Watch The Yard does an excellent job of displaying content that shows the world who we really are and our true purpose. 

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

I love being a member of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc. because I have the freedom to be me and learn how to be a greater me. The members that I have met during my almost 18 year membership have helped me in every season and area of my life. I have grown tremendously, discovered talents, and developed a passion for helping people effectively. I don’t have to be anybody specific here in Sigma. I can be specifically and individually me. 

​​Lastly, what does sisterhood mean to you?

Sisterhood means fellowship with individuals from various experiences, backgrounds, and educational pursuits joining forces in love, in friendship, in respect, in loyalty, and in service. 

We at Watch The Yard would like to commend Elisha Winters for her work as the Basileus of the Omicron Sigma Chapter which has a legacy that spans back to 1937. 

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