By Ameera Polk
Certain chapters in my life could be considered themes. For example, the theme of my Junior year of college included helping my community where I acted as a sister for someone who didn’t have one and embraced the principles of Black heritage. When I was inducted into the UCF Chapter of SISTUHS Inc. on November 16th, 2019, one element that stood out to me was the capitalization of all letters and the specific pronunciation in place of the traditional spelling of “Sisters.” These features became important to me when I met inspiring members of the organization as well as participated in the empowering events that corresponded with SISTUHS’ values and philanthropy. Three years ago, when I was just an out of state freshman from Philadelphia, I was interested in a collegiate organization with principles that guide action-oriented service in Orlando. To me, this meant placing emphasis on attaining new knowledge through specific service efforts, such as community service, leadership, fundraising, political advocacy and sisterhood/brotherhood to name a few.
Being an only child and identifying with other like-minded women was what made my decision for becoming a SISTUH so special to my college experience. As students of color who are still trying to find their “second home,” they may take solace in knowing that there is an impactful community leaving the legacy of continuous service. For me, the challenge in this transition was that solidarity was not encouraged in my predominantly Black community and schools. It was assumed that the cultural bond was automatically present through the ability to learn and collaborate with classmates that look like you; however, this is false. Even within Black spaces, I found that the interests, goals and methods to achieve those goals varied with each student.
Since its establishment in 1992 at Florida State University, SISTUHS has attributed each letter with a spirit of action and self-development: Strength, Initiative, Spirituality, Tenacity, Unity, Health, and Substance, all of which I am encouraged to demonstrate through bonding with the conscious, positive attitudes of women like me, about the impact service has for strengthening the community and for ourselves. Spirituality is both an independent and communal practice that black women like me consider a grounding and peaceful way to manage stress. Being tenacious occurs when passion meets determination, and unity is a collective effort to console. This recipe for substance is well respected in the UCF community as a ceremonial event that awards individuals and other organizations certificates based on the achievements that exemplified one or more of the founding acronyms.
Now I am aware that other organizations provide the same feeling of belonging; however, I would like to use this platform to voice the experience of this collegiate organization through the lens of a black woman. It can be challenging to fit in with spaces that may not understand you, but the presence of black organizations like SISTUHS shape the courage, humanitarianism, social skills and dedication that we see in many leaders today.
Vision in Action
My SISTUHS and I are able to actively practice charity through the many visions’ members have for events. It isn’t just work and meetings – the organization’s efforts highlight the importance of spaces for women of color and is a solid platform for bonding, community and scholarship. It was essential for me to find an organization that catered to my goal of providing mental health awareness to the African American community at UCF. SISTUHS encourages its members to curate our own events and present them. That opportunity gives me the confidence and fulfillment as a woman of color that my ideas will be heard. It is evident that bias, lack of funds and resources, and lack of support can displace many Black registered student organizations. Lack of engagement can also cause Black students to be unaware of these supportive associations; therefore, I am grateful that SISTUHS clearly overcame several obstacles that come along with establishing an RSO. I am proud to be a part of a union that practices stability.
With the onset of the novel virus: COVID-19, SISTUHS has demonstrated how each acronym plays an important role in perseverance. We prioritize the needs of members who are considered family (hence the sibling dynamic stemming from SISTUHS and Progressive Black Men, Inc.) and virtual fellowship during this time. For example, when COVID struck, shortly after the return of UCF’s spring break, executive board members began conducting events through Zoom calls and utilized the several group chats for constant communication. Although this virus is a dark, disappointing, and upsetting event in our college career, members of SISTUHS embraced the “Keep your SISTUH safe” initiative and curated safe methods of outreach.
As we approached the Fall semester, being active also meant taking precautions, following CDC guidelines and remaining practical, something the Chapter did not anticipate when planning for Fall semester activities. This included more outdoor events, virtual forums and seminars. Most notably, SISTUHS remained respectful of the traditions and attire required for Chapter meetings. You can see SISTUHS wearing the Chapter polo, business casual attire, or business professional attire even in the comfort of our homes. All in all, our mission statement remains consistent with our efforts as we have empowered and assisted the Orlando community through education, community service, and recently, political action. This provided even more assurance that I selected an innovative, remarkable and substantial organization.
Becoming a SISTUH
So why should you join? Whether you are dressed in SISTUHS lettering or not, the main aspect about joining concerns what is done within the chapter, and I can confidently say that SISTUHS was a great introduction to developing ideas in a professional manner. It was also another opportunity for personal and professional growth. I am grateful to be a part of an altruistic community that values the empowerment of Black women regardless of their background. For instance, my committee is responsible for bridging the relationship between other chapters of SISTUHS and Progressive Black Men, Inc. This is a supportive and diverse connection and a collective contribution to the organization’s mission. My membership, experiences, and growth, have been a sweet reminder that home is what you make it, and I can say that this home was made with care and soundness.