Houston native, Joya T. Hayes grew up surrounded by women of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated. Her mother and grandmother were both members. So she knew she wanted her legacy to be not just one of living as a service to all mankind, but leading those who serve as well.
Now, as South Central Regional Director, Hayes is doing just that. Poised with directing the operations of the 10,000-plus women who make up the third-largest region out of the ten regions of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, the Austin resident is excited about returning to her hometown for an in-person event for the first time since COVID shut down the country.
Hayes talked with the Defender about this monumental event.
Defender: This is one of the first in-person conferences coming back to the city, especially of this magnitude. What does that mean for you, and the sorority?
Joya Hayes: We are very excited to come back to the city of Houston. This is very important as it represents the first time in three years that the sorority in this region has come together for the regional conference. And so it’s not only symbolic of the service that we always do in Alpha Kappa Alpha, but it represents the fact that we made it through and despite all of the obstacles of the pandemic, we are still here, healthy and ready to serve the community.
Defender: Why is this a big deal for the downtown Houston economy?
Hayes: We’re really excited to have sold out five hotels in 22 minutes, which the Hilton told us was an absolute record. We’re thrilled to be able to come in with such a significant financial impact to Houston and to do it in a way that supports everything that Houston is trying to accomplish. The city has endured so much and to be able to come back and have the impact of 6,200 women coming to the space, selling out the hotels and spending money is something that we’re excited to take part in as we move through these tough economic times.
Defender: What type of COVID protocols are in place for such a large gathering?
Hayes: There are 6,200 people that are registered for the conference, but 1,200 of those are supposed to be virtual. But when I saw those rooms in 22 minutes, I realized that there was going to be some visitors that are not a part of the registered group. So I can certainly tell you what our numbers are, but we know that we are expecting over a thousand people who did not register for the conference, who are just coming to be a part of the space. We have hired an external vendor to come in and help us with COVID testing. We’ve established some national COVID protocols for Alpha Kappa Alpha, and we have done a little bit more in the South Central Region.
There’s mandatory testing for our workshop presenters. Every person who comes to the conference will have to have had a COVID test within the last 72 hours. And we have monitors that will ensure face masks are always on, as well as temperature controls and we’ve created spacing in our sessions and workshops. And if anybody is sick, we will be sending them to our triage area. We’re also ready for those members who are not just quite ready for big crowds. As a part of our registration, we do have a live stream. So people can come to some pieces of it and then live stream from their homes or hotels. We’ve done as much as we could to ensure that we created a conference that really supported anybody in whatever safety level they are comfortable with.