This past weekend, the Hyatt Regency O’Hare Hotel was invaded by the colors of royal blue and white as the sisterhood of the Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Incorporated held the 81st Annual Regional Leadership Conference. With over 700 members that attended from across seven (7) states (Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin), it was a prelude to the national leadership conference this summer in Washington, D.C.
The conference, led by Great Lakes Regional Director Michelle Porter Norman captured the essence of all that Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Incorporated embodies…to be “A Community Conscious, Action Oriented Organization”. The opening ceremony allowed guests, friends and family to get a peek into the traditional program of recognizing the respect and unity that brings together the international Greek letter Sororities and Fraternities known as the ‘Divine 9’.
With the room filled with members of the Zeta Phi Beta and some of the men of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, the energy was high as the Great Lakes Regional Director, Michelle Porter Norman was escorted by Daryl Parks-Great Lakes Regional Director (Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity) and the Sorority’s International President-Mary Breaux Wright, escorted by her husband, James Wright a member of the Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity.
Unless you are member of a Black Greek letter Sorority and Fraternity, the average person doesn’t quite understand the purpose that the organizations outside of college campus life. Many bonds and life long relationships are formed and very few are broken as members take solemn oaths to preserve and honor the mission of each organization. Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Incorporated is deeply committed in honoring the mission that the five founding women members initiated on the campus of Howard University, January 16, 1920. Arizona Cleaver Stemons, Pearl Anna Neal, Myrtle Tyler Faithful, Viola Tyler Goings, and Fannie Pettie Watts known as the ‘Five Pearls’.These women believed that sorority elitism and socializing overshadowed the real mission for progressive organizations and failed to address fully the societal mores, ills, prejudices, and poverty affecting humanity in general and the black community in particular.
Fast forward to what the organization stands for today- Scholarship, Service, Sisterhood and Finer Womanhood. Throughout the opening program, each leader stressed the importance of executing the organization’s mission. Preparing for the Centennial in 2020 celebration, International President, Mary Breaux Wright is very focused on working with the regional leadership to energize members. She joined Zeta Phi Beta Sorority over 40 years ago attending Grambling State University and was immediately attracted to the kinship of the sorority.
“When you find an organization, a group of women you feel attached to–you gravitate to them. It’s still that final womanhood that you still have to represent in a certain way when I was growing up.” said Wright. Having grown up without having sisters and maintaining a solid faith in the Catholic church, she found it refreshing to experience the bond that the Zetas represented. Now, her role as 24th International President allows her to work with over 800 chapters around the world and recently bringing on new Zeta Phi Beta Sorority chapters in London, Belgium and Abu Dhabi, Africa. She shares her mutual respect and support for Great Lakes Regional Director, Michelle Porter Norman.
“Any region, at any time depends on the leadership. The leadership can either make you excited or they can make you think ‘Do I really want to do this’? I can only speak for the present administration. Michelle wants to make you want to be a part of the region. You have to have a vision, you have to be clear in the direction you want to take them. That’s what she is doing. She has a great mentor in Dr. Tearte but it has to come from within.” explains Wright.
A Chicago native, Michelle Porter Norman grew up on the South Side and recognized earlier as a student the importance of having positive role models.
“We grew up in one of the roughest communities in Chicago-Englewood and within those walls at Lindbloom Technical High School we had mentors, teachers, and counselors who instilled in us that we have important roles when we graduate from high school. Sometimes, we were the first generation in our families going off to college. When we arrived on campus, we saw Black Greek letter organizations present.” said Norman.
She adds, “I attended ISU in the 1980’s where at the time, there were about 1,000 Black students out of approximately 24,000 students on a predominately White college campus. When something happened to one Black Greek organization, it affected us all. No matter what color or letter you wore, we supported each other.”
The Zeta Phi Beta Sorority is not the only organization within the Divine 9 that rock the colors of blue and white- the Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity is the pea in the pot that stirs the stew. Often, you will rarely see one organization without the other. It is a true commitment that has brought the organizations together.
Past Zeta Phi Beta Sorority International President, Dr. Jylla Moore-Tearte explains, “The Zetas were founded on the campus of Howard University with the assistance of the Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity and we joined together to provide service initially in the Washington, D. C. area and now throughout the world. It’s a very unique bond. No other organization has that kind of bond. We share colors, we share programs, we share events and activities because we believe in the same values. It’s a very special relationship.”
Throughout the evening, key speakers included Zeta Phi Beta Sorority Illinois State Director- Connie V. Pugh, Regional Chaplain-Rev. W. Ann Bilbrew, National Pan-Hellenic Council of Chicago-Joel Head, Central Region Syntakes for Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority- Christiana Bediako, National Executive Director for Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority-Cynthia Howell, Midwest Regional Director for Delta Sigma Theta Sorority-Dr. Mona Davenport, PhD., Honorable Judge Steven G. Watkins (10th District) for Omega Psi Phi and Great Lakes Regional Director- Daryl Parks for Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Incorporated.
Some of Zeta Phi Beta national programs include, Z-HOPE, Stork’s Nest and Elder Care provide necessary assistance to members in communities across the globe, to address social ills, poverty, and health concerns of the day.
Contributing to these programs and engaging current members has become a priority for the Great Lakes Region. “Our numbers have increased, we reclaimed hundreds of Sorors that were inactive. We’ve grown in our auxiliaries with our adult, youth auxiliaries and new initiative, Elder Care. We have baby boomers aging within our organization. It helps us to understand, eventually that we will all age. Do we have a plan of action to prepare ourselves and our families for those golden years?” said Norman.
There is no question that the glue to the organization is the strong spirit and dedication of the elder members, affectionately called the Zeta Doves. What is the organization’s direction on securing the commitment of its younger members in an age where social media has a heavy influence?
President Wright shares very strong concerns, “We followed our mentors when I was growing up. Now with social media, some of the people on there are the ones that are trying to tell people what to do and they are not leading them in the right direction. It has caused some of us to fight harder to find different means of getting them to understand what sisterhood is. Sisterhood is not going out there and being inactive and protesting with your colors and letters especially when you haven’t been financial nor following the code of conduct. It’s not about taking in new members–that’s not the primary reason for being on a college campus. It’s for doing service, it’s for ‘finding womanhood’, ‘sisterhood’ and ‘scholarship’. Social media has made it harder for us as leaders to pull them back into reality.” said Wright.
One of the highlights for the organization’s continued dedication to community service was recognized by Awards Concepts, who presented the Zeta Phi Beta Sorority with a $25,000 check. Awards Concept is headquartered in St. Charles, Illinois and one of the largest award and plaque manufacturers in the United States. Along with a special proclamation from the Village of Rosemont proclaiming, April 23rd- Zeta Phi Beta Sorority Day.
With the Zeta Organizational Leadership Conference right around the corner, President Wright is looking forward to a solid and positive turnout of members in Washington, D.C.
In her feisty, enthusiasm, the lifetime member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority adds, “I want unity. I want them to feel that they joined a sorority that is for ‘them’. I know some are going to complain because you will never get 100% to cooperate. I want us to work together, and let it to be an understanding. I want them to put in leaders who are there for them, not promote their own careers but leaders that are there for Zetas. Let us smile and be together–that true sisterhood, that would be my aim in life!”
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Michelle Porter Norman-Zeta Phi Beta Sorority (23rd Great Lakes Regional Director) and Daryl Parks-Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity (26th Great Lakes Regional Director)
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Mary Breaux Wright-Zeta Phi Beta Sorority (International President) and husband, James Wright- Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Incorporated
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Dr. Jylla Moore Tearte, 20th International President, Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Incorporated
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Papillon Spinks, Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Incorporated Great Lakes Region Editor
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Connie V. Pugh, Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Incorporated Illinois State Director
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Pictured l-r: Michelle Porter Norman, Mary Breaux Wright, Leslie Buckner and executives for Awards Concepts presenting a $25,000 check to Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Incorporated.
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Joel Head, President of National Pan-Hellenic Council Chicago
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Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Incorporated
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Byron Thorton, Senior Province VP, North Central Province, Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Incorporated
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Honorable Judge Steven G. Watkins, 10th District Representative, Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Incorporated
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Dr. Mona Davenport PhD, Midwest Regional Director, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated
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Pictured l-r: Michelle Porter Norman and Dr. Mona Davenport PhD
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Cynthia Howell, National Executive Director, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.
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Christiana Bediako, Area V Coordinator, Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Incorporated
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Daryl Parks, 26th Great Lakes Regional Director, Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Incorporated
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Michelle Porter Norman, Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Incorporated and Daryl Parks, Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Incorporated
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Mary Breaux Wright was elected as the 24th International President of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Incorporated in July 2012.
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Mary Breaux Wright, International President, Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Incorporated
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Pictured l-r: Dr. Jylla Moore Tearte, Frances E. Faithful (daughter of founder Myrtle Tyler Faithful), Mary Breaux Wright and Michelle Porter Norman of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Incorporated