So I’m wasting time on Facebook, checking out this, “liking” that, when I see my friend Paras Griffin, a Kappa from Atlanta, has uploaded videos from this year’s Kappa Undergraduate Leadership Institute. The videos were great. We see young Kappas bonding around various exercises, some silly, others serious. But like all leadership conferences, the point was for the young men to learn about how to be better leaders. The videos also reminded me that we as black Greeks do a poor job of letting the public know that we actually devote a lot of time and resources internally on leadership development. Each organization has their own leadership program, and today we’ll look at Kappa Alpha Psi’s Undergraduate Leadership Institute (ULI) in order to see what makes it tick and what the attendees get out of it.
My buddy Andre Early is the Director of Undergraduate and University Relations for Kappa Alpha Psi, and also oversees the ULI for the fraternity. As long as I’ve known him, Andre has always eaten, drank and slept college member development, so it’s not a surprise that he thinks the ULI is a crucial Kappa program.
“The Undergraduate Leadership Institute is one of the most important initiatives that Kappa Alpha Psi has to offer its undergraduate members,” said Early “The program is designed to truly train for leadership.”
Training for leadership, one of KAPsi’s mottos, is what Kappa had in mind back in 1996 when they created the Undergraduate Provincial Officers‘ Leadership Conference. The main theme of the first conference was “Knowledge, Pass It On – Growth Through Knowledge Develops Strength”. That early conference turned into the current Undergraduate Leadership Institute. The current ULI, in partnership with GE Aviation, is a seven-day program for young undergraduate Kappas who must apply and be accepted in order to participate. Only about fifty are chosen each year, making the competition fierce, and their expenses are all taken care of by the fraternity.
“The ULI typically includes workshops focused on leadership, ethical decision making, project and time management, conflict resolution, and diversity,” said Early. “In past years (2004 & 2006), we've also had the Georgia State University Challenge Program, an obstacles-course requiring participants to work as team to overcome adversity.” The sessions are broken down into groups, both large and small, where the learning takes place. Mentors and facilitators from throughout Kappa help guide the discussions, while also letting their college brothers make leadership decisions for themselves.
Last June in Cincinnati, there were 47 Kappas attending the ULI as part of the Delta Class, representing the fourth ULI class. And universally, the feeling was that attending ULI was one of their best fraternal experiences in their young Kappa lives.
“ULI was a intense and intriguing training program on leadership development, and it really focused on the reality of achievement amongst our fraternal bond,” said Jarrell Wattley, chapter Vice Polemarch (Vice President to y’all who don’t speak black Greek) for the KAPsi chapter at Albany State in Georgia. “The Undergraduate Leadership Institute was one of the best investments in my fraternity and life,” he added. “In my mind, we should always be willing to learn and work on getting better at anything that advances us in this life. I prepare myself to learn all of the time, and I don’t let opportunities get past me.”
As Junior Grand Vice Polemarch, Kristerpher Smith serves as an undergraduate member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity’s National Board of Directors. He’s already reached one of the highest achievements for an undergrad, and still, even this 20-year old was attending ULI in order to learn more about what it takes to lead.
“My greatest accomplishment was being elected into a national office, because with this I have the opportunity to meet brothers all across the fraternity and serve as a direct advocate in all aspects of undergraduates while ensuring we are involved with the alumni brothers as well,” Smith said, who attends Middle Tennessee State University. “And ULI helped me realize that being assertive is one of the most valuable assets to a leader, because everyone working together has the ability to offer quality suggestions and an insight to valid perspectives.”
For some attendees like Serrano Legrand, a 22-year old senior at Northeastern University in Boston, the ULI changed his perspective. “There was something that happened throughout the course of the week at ULI that forced my mentality to change,” said Legrand. “There are several factor, but I’ll say that my self-consciousness has been manifested, producing confidence and competence that I now have in order to lead in a far greater capacity. It has made me aware that I have the power to influence, inspire and change. Simultaneously, it humbled me through my realization that I am among a very few selected individuals within my fraternity and within humanity who can do it.”
Derrick Christian, who just graduated from the University of Missouri, made the ULI his last undergraduate activity. Just named junior editor of Kappa Alpha Psi’s fraternity magazine, the Kappa Journal, ULI was mixture of hard work and fraternal bonding. “Professionally, ULI was not a joke,” laughs Christian. “We went from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. some nights. With workshops, lectures, tours, bus rides, discussions, chapter meetings, eating three large meals a day, we would be tired at the end of the day. But you couldn’t stop us from staying up all night and talking, sharing steps and songs, fraternizing and everything. We had to wake up early the next day and do it all over again, but we thought we could sleep when we flew back home because brothers were connecting.”
It is that experience of learning from your fellow brothers or sister about how to improve yourself and your organization that makes any leadership program worth its salt. And if done right, these leadership programs help members show their leadership way beyond their fraternal organization. For the Kappas who attended this year’s Undergraduate Leadership Institute, the experience was life changing and they’d recommend that others find out for themselves. “I’ll talk about [my fraternity brothers] badly if they don’t apply or go,” laughs Christian. “In the most brotherly way possible, of course!”
Contact Lawrence Ross on Twitter: @alpha1906
Contact Lawrence Ross via email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Lawrence Ross is the author of the Los Angeles Times best-seller The Divine Nine: The History of African American Fraternities and Sororities. His newest book, Blackballed: The Black and White Politics of Race on America’s Campuses, is a blunt and frank look at the historical and contemporary issue of campus racism on predominantly white college campuses. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.