When Carolyn House Stewart explains that her first duty as international president of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. involved "presenting her program," I imagined a simple PowerPoint presentation in a dimly lit board room.
Like past presidents, Stewart accented her goals with theatrics: music, video, smoke and costumes. Diana Ross' apropos I'm Coming Out started the show, and it later shifted to the Mission: Impossible theme.
However, it's mission possible for Stewart and the goals she set at the beginning of her tenure in St. Louis this summer. The grand presentation underscores the Tampa attorney's excitement as she assumes control of the popular historically black sorority.
Stewart plays host to her first AKA board meeting this weekend in Tampa, and make no mistake that the sorority's goal of helping the community remains a serious pursuit 102 years after its founding.
"While we have fun and do socialize and have this sisterhood bond, it's really about uplifting a race and changing a world," said Stewart, who set the organization's theme as "Global Leadership Through Timeless Service."
"The general public does not recognize the power of college-educated women who came from a historical background, one generation removed from slavery. Alpha Kappa Alpha not only has human capital, but we have a volunteer infrastructure already in place through our chapters and regions that many organizations cannot bring to the table."
With more than 260,000 members in chapters in the United States, Canada, Europe and the Caribbean, AKA's international service mission includes a focus on education, health, family, economics, technology and leadership.
Many of the sorority's initiatives involve collaborations with national organizations such as the American Heart Association, the American Diabetes Association and the American Kidney Fund. Last month, AKA partnered with the American Head Start Association to launch a health initiative aimed at helping children with asthma.
While the service initiatives stand at the forefront, Stewart also has to contend with legal issues. Members and former members have filed suits questioning the expenditures and compensation of the previous president.
Stewart, a partner at Macfarlane Ferguson & McMullen, said she can't comment on pending litigation, but it helps that she's the first attorney to lead AKA.
Buoyed by her husband, Delano Stewart, and the support of local sorority sisters, Stewart expects to have special moments this weekend, especially at a reception bringing area community leaders together with sorority leaders.
"I love Alpha Kappa Alpha," Stewart said. "It's a part of me. I have a professional life, I have a family life, I have a church life and I have an Alpha Kappa Alpha life, and it all meshes."
In her voice, you hear a sense of pride and a sense of fulfillment.
That's all I'm saying.