African American Studies


Interviewees: Yvonne Smith, Member and Donna Joseph, President, Eta Omega Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated ©

Interviewers: Dr. Mark Naison Date: April 12, 2023

Summarized by Amy Rini July 15, 2023

Yvonne Marie Smith was born and spent her entire 72 years of life to date in the Bronx, and decades as a leading member of ETA Omega Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated ©. Smith is a retired educator and impactful community leader. Her parents were both born in New York City: her father was born in Harlem and her mother in Yonkers. Her mother's father was from Montserrat. Her father's mother came to the United States in her teens from Jamaica. So Smith identifies as having an “American heritage.” She moved to the Bronx when she was three months old, and lived in the Bronx through her adult life - with a 12 year stay in Manhattan because of the fires. She returned to the Bronx because “I've worked in the Bronx, lived in the Bronx, have a heart for the Bronx. I've attended elementary, junior high and high school here in the Bronx.”

Smith attended James Monroe High School, which is now several academies. Leo Weiss was the principal. His determination encouraged most of her peers to finish high school. Prior to the fires and Bronx burning and the drug epidemic, it was a close knit community. You couldn't do anything that another adult stepping in to remind children that they were children. They reminded Smith to be careful. That was the kind of community it was. People looked out for each other. Her family attended Trinity Episcopal. The 1970s Bronx fires destroyed her building, and the city took a long time to place displaced people, so her family had to disperse. Her brother slept in the park, and her younger brother went to the military, because they had nowhere to go. Her sister slept with her aunt in Queens and another aunt took her and her parents in. She was a file clerk, and assorted roles in the government, health and human services, social security, IRS, Department of Labor, etc. until going to City College, then winning a teaching fellowship to Virginia Poly Tech and becoming a high school economist and math teacher. She served the Board of Ed for 23 years. There was no music in the high school, so she taught her math students to read music because she had played the viola in the all-city orchestra as a child.

Smith has served as treasurer and economist for ETA Omega Omega and a number of local organizations, where she helped them write and revise bylaws and parliamentary procedures. In ETA, she has held most leadership positions, helped people learn about the political process, and is proud that ETA was able to support the current Vice President Kamala Harris. She saw the Bronx as a place you could enjoy living in and working in, where it was easy to get around by public transportation and walking. Because she struggled as a child, she chose to serve the community she lived and worked in, to help people sustain themselves in a challenging world. The ETA Omega Omega sisterhood is one that supports and connects women all over the country.

Key Words: bronx, sorority, chapter, people, support, mentoring, organizations, high school, remember, bylaws, serving, church, grew, community, leadership, members, trinity episcopal, alpha kappa, omega, committee, ETA Omega Omega, Vice President Kamala Harris