Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Incorporated’s Resilient Rho Theta Zeta Chapter serves the Portage/Kalamazoo area in southwest Michigan. It was chartered on April 19, 1999 at the Great Lakes Regional Conference in Indianapolis, Ind. The ceremony was presided over by then International President Dr. Barbara West Carpenter, much to the delight of the charter members who had no idea she would be there until she arrived in the room.
“That was really an honor,” recalls Soror Renita Ellis, a charter member. “I was like, ‘Wow! The International Grand Basileus is doing our chartering!’ She was a very classy lady.”
There had briefly been a Zeta graduate chapter in a nearby community before us, but many of Lambda Psi Zeta’s members moved away over time. Those sorors still around continued to informally get together, found they liked doing it and decided to bring a new graduate chapter to the area. Thus, Rho Theta Zeta was born, birthed by 10 women made up of Zetas already living the community and recent graduates of Western Michigan University, the local public university. The charter members are: Sorors Keisha Barksdale, Ondraya Dixon, Renita Ellis, Bridgett Gibson, Joan Harris, Kelley Kellis, Monique Ligons, Peggy McKnight, Sheila Parkman and Hillary Williams.
We have prided ourselves on being a small but mighty group. In 2016, Michigan State Director Tonia Jenkins named Soror Dalexius Walker as Basileus of the Year. That same year, Rho Theta Zeta Chapter informally adopted the tagline: “We do a lot with a little, and we’re growing,” created by Soror Earlene McMichael. In 2017, we won Michigan Chapter of the Year at the 49th Annual Michigan State Organization Annual Leadership Conference. Between 2016 and 2019, our membership more than doubled and then some in size, going from about nine to 23 members.
So it was an extremely proud moment to us to reach the 20-year milestone in 2019. The chapter invited the public to celebrate with us at an elegant, ticketed gala. Then Michigan State Director Angela Philmore and immediate past director, Tonia Jenkins, also attended plus sorors from throughout the state and local Greeks. We honored our charter members and three organizations that empowers and trains young girls. The groups were Kalamazoo Junior Girls, the Merze Tate Explorers and Confident S.O.L.E.
Our Centennial leadership team: Basileus Sheila Parkman, First Anti-Basileus Marissa Harrington, Second Anti-Basileus Germaine Milliner, Grammateus Beonka Weems-Hines, Tamias Stacy Jackson, Tamias Grammateus Erica Smith, Phylacter Dalexius Walker, Epistoleus Erica Smith and Sisterhood Coordinator Tameatha Reed.
Rho Theta Zeta engages our community at a high degree. Thanks to our fun annual bowling fundraisers and grants, we can give college scholarships and donate to the March of Dimes important work to fight prematurity, including the March for Babies as part of Zeta Phi Beta’s long-standing Stork’s Nest initiative for expectant mothers. March of Dimes is a big deal in our chapter. In fact, one of our members, Soror Marissa Harrington, was the Kalamazoo March of Dimes March for Babies 2018 Executive Leadership Chair, overseeing the raising of more than $130,000.
Our chapter also supports lots of other charitable causes – too many to name – either through financial donations or the purchase of items like wigs for African-American cancer patients. In support of the Sorority’s National Z-PACK IT UP and Adopt-A-School initiatives, we have distributed backpacks at schools, done preschool storytimes, and hosted afterschool fitness classes. Our service portfolio has also included Adopt-A-Highway and an annual Trunk or Treat alternative Halloween program.
In 2017, we introduced a public recognition luncheon to heighten awareness of impactful nonprofit groups serving people of color. The first year, we celebrated mothers and honored Mothers of Hope. We shifted the spotlight to fathers the following year and recognized Charlies P.L.A.C.E. and The Fatherhood Network in 2018. For our 20th anniversary in 2019, we honored three groups serving young girls.
We devoted our early years to mentoring young girls. Zeta Phi Beta Sorority offers three youth groups, Pearlettes, Amicettes and Archonettes, serving preschool through high school. Our chapter had all of them in the mid-2000s and reached youngsters in the community as well as the children of chapter members. Rho Theta Zeta Chapter was once called upon to host the State Youth Picnic during that period. We now focus our attention on outreach to senior citizens as part of National’s Elder Care initiative, but hope to resume youth groups in the future.
Our signature project is the adoption of the Heritage Community of Kalamazoo senior citizen assisted living facility. Since 2015, we have led Bingo games and provided manicures for residents (our Dovely Spa) but mostly importantly companionship during our every other month visits. We hold highly popular annual Veterans’ Day programs at the facility as well, where the program always allows time for the veterans to share their favorite memories while serving.
Every year, Rho Theta Zeta Chapter awards college scholarships to impressive graduating high school seniors, and joins other Black organizations in a joint public recognition event to collectively recognize our scholars. We augment this with donations to educational funds of various sorts, such as Zeta’s National Education Foundation, Myrtle Faithful Fund Inc., and the Marisa Nicole Lockett-Davis Scholarship for under-represented students studying pediatric medicine at the Western Michigan University Homer Stryker M.D. School of Medicine in Kalamazoo, Mich.
One of the ways our chapter has grown is through reclaiming sorors. Every Founders’ Day, we make it a point to welcome sorors to join us for dinner and fellowship in hopes they come home to Zeta, and several have over the years.
Rho Theta Zeta Chapter introduced a Sisterhood Committee during the 2019-2020 sororal year to help be a support for one another, and promote closeness and fun. We plan organized events quarterly for our members such as spa visits, as well as host more informal monthly Sisterhood Socials.
State Conferences & Trainings
Rho Theta Zeta has twice co-hosted the Michigan State Organization Annual Leadership Conference. The first time was in Grand Rapids with that city’s Pi Rho Zeta Chapter, and the second time was in Kalamazoo with Benton Harbor’s Chi Kappa Zeta Chapter in 2014. In fall 2015, we were privileged to host 31 sorors for Membership Intake Program (MIP) certification training, led by then Michigan State Director Tonia Jenkins.
State & Regional Recognition
Our chapter has been recognized at state and regional leadership conferences. At the Michigan state meeting, we earned Basileus of the Year in 2016 (Dalexius Walker) and Chapter of the Year in 2017. At the Great Lakes regional conference, we received the third place Z-HOPE Award for our community service in our chapter-size category in 2015, and first place for Chapter Report in our category in 2016.
NPHC of Kalamazoo
Rho Theta Chapter was among the eight historically Black Greek-lettered organizations that chartered the Kalamazoo chapter of the National Pan-Hellenic Council on Jan. 25, 2020 at Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Kalamazoo. A national NPHC official flew in to preside over the historic occasion that took several years of hard work to make happen. The chapter is called NPHC of Kalamazoo.
Zeta Leaders & Trailblazers
Rho Theta Zeta Chapter has had elected and appointed officers at the state, regional and national levels. Plus several members belong to boards and/or are highly involved in community improvement efforts. Soror Sheila Parkman was elected Tamias Grammateus for the Michigan State Organization, and Soror Dalexius Walker has been Grammateus. Soror Earlene McMichael was elected MSO Epistoleus and appointed Great Lakes Public Relations and Marketing Coordinator and member of the National Publications and Communications Team; she also is a charter member of the Tendaji African-American women philanthropic group. Soror Stacy Jackson was board chair of Open Doors, which provides affordable housing and support services to vulnerable families and individuals. Soror Marissa Harrington runs a realty company (Five Star Real Estate) and founded a theater company (Face Off Theatre Company). Soror Takisha Johnson is founder of the Young Kings & Queens youth outreach group.
The following sorors have daughters who have joined Zeta: Soror Sheila Parkman (Kiera Parkman initiated at Nu Nu Chapter at Oakland University in Rochester, Mich.) and Soror Earlene McMichael (Joy Rutherford initiated at Phi Gamma Chapter at Michigan State University in East Lansing, Mich.).
Note: This is part of the Michigan State Organization’s online series "The MSO Great History Countdown! Our Centennial Journey to State Meeting" to leave a lasting gift to the state in honor of Zeta’s 100th anniversary. Histories from every graduate and undergraduate chapter in Michigan is being published in the month of September 2020 in the days leading up to the centennial state meeting. The project was approved under State Director Lynese Thomas’ administration, and overseen by MSO Epistoleus Earlene McMichael in partnership with MSO Historian Trudy Hale and Great Lakes Region Historian Norma Dartis.