Newsroom Midwest Region

Building relationships, building community: Detroit welcomes Sigma Beta Club

July 24, 2017

Sigma Beta Club field day. Photo by Tina Shaw/USFWS.
Sigma Beta Club field day. Photo by Tina Shaw/USFWS.

When you hear the word refuge, what does it mean to you? It’s a simple question, but one which can elicit a variety of responses depending on your perspective. For us, refuges are biologically diverse places for fish, wildlife, and people. They are places to have fun, places to be happy. The question came up recently as more than 200 Sigma Beta Club youth and their mentors came out to spend a day with us at Historic Fort Wayne in Detroit, Michigan.

Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge collaborated with Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Incorporated to give youth from across the country a chance to answer this question for themselves. Phi Beta Sigma has been focused on building the next generation of leaders and fostering healthy communities since 1914. Since the 1950s, they have also mentored young men from all walks of life, ages eight to 18. The goal of the day was to connect their young members with conservation professionals to share how they have been making the Detroit River cleaner and healthier for all of us - fish, wildlife, and people. 

So, what did they learn? A common thread through the day was the importance of community. Refuges are communities too, whether they are remote or urban. They are places to connect with each other and the natural world. Whether it’s on a hike, bike, paddle, or picnicking with your family, refuges are places where you can feel comfortable exploring. America has more than 560 national wildlife refuges across the country, with more than 100 of them located near cities like Detroit, Minneapolis, Albuquerque, and San Diego. Sigma Beta youth learned that there’s a good chance that they have a refuge in their own backyard!

Meet Myles Heyward, from Newcastle, Washington. He’s an energetic, go-getter, and president of the Seattle Chapter of Sigma Beta Club. Heyward was excited to learn about how refuges work in the local communities around them. He said that he didn’t know quite what to expect from the field day or that he would have so as much fun. 

“I’d have to say that my favorite session today was being with the federal wildlife officers. They’ve done a really great job showcasing what it means to manage federal lands and wildlife,” said Heyward.

Heyward, who will be a senior in the fall, has a plan for his path forward and it’s all about his community and about encouraging others to live an authentic life wherever they call home. At 17, Heyward already runs his own socially-conscious urban apparel business that’s built around this belief and donates 10 percent of his profits to Northwest Harvest, a statewide hunger relief agency. Heyward, and the momentum he creates with his local community, has a ripple effect with the Sigma Beta Club nationwide and is exactly the reason why we reached out to Phi Beta Sigma to partner on opportunities like the Detroit field day. Now Heyward and his fellow Sigma Beta brothers can head back to their communities and help people find their refuge. 

The 2017 Sigma Beta Club field day was part of the biennial Phi Beta Sigma Conclave National Leadership Conference that ran concurrently in Detroit and was an invitation for Sigma Club members to follow a conservation career path in the future. Midwest Regional Director Tom Melius and Deputy Regional Director Charlie Wooley were honored to represent the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service during the opening ceremony and at the field day.

“Across the nation, wildlife refuges and our other facilities are teaming up with local Sigma chapters to introduce young people to outdoor recreation, wildlife management, and STEM-based careers. Our goal is to continue to build on these efforts and introduce more young people to the possibilities inherent in nature - both through their careers and their health and well-being,” said Midwest Regional Director Tom Melius.

Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity was founded at Howard University in Washington, D.C., January 9, 1914 and was the first Greek organization to develop a youth auxiliary group in the early 1950s. Today, the fraternity serves through a membership of more than 200,000 men in more than 700 chapters in the United States, Africa, Europe, Asia, and the Caribbean. Although Phi Beta Sigma is considered a predominantly African-American Fraternity, its membership also consists of diverse college-educated men of African, Caucasian, Hispanic, Native American and Asian descent.

The staff of Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge would like to extend a special thanks to Historic Fort Wayne Project Manager James Conway with Detroit Parks and Recreation and Historic Ft. Wayne Coalition Chairman Tom Berlucchi for hosting the field day event.

Learn more about Sigma Beta Club:

Learn more about Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge:

Sigma Beta members practice mock water rescue. Photo by Tina Shaw/USFWS.
Sigma Beta members practice mock water rescue. Photo by Tina Shaw/USFWS.

Seattle Chapter of Sigma Beta Club with Tom Melius. Photo by Tina Shaw/USFWS.
Seattle Chapter of Sigma Beta Club with Tom Melius. Photo by Tina Shaw/USFWS.