INSPIRE ATLANTA: ‘Zeta mother’ continues legacy of service and scholarship

To many of the young women in the Zeta Phi Beta service sorority, Jenelsia Lovejoy Belt is more than a sister. She’s their “Zeta mother.”

The term of affection comes from sorority sisters, such as Tonya Cook, whom Belt has mentored and encouraged in their educational and career goals.

“I consider Jenelsia Belt as my Zeta mother because she’s always encouraging me to be authentic, awesome and accountable,” Cook said. “She encourages me to keep trying, even if I fail the first time or the second time. She always tells me her favorite quote: ‘Nothing beats a failure, but a try.’”

For the past 30 years, this Fayetteville great grandmother has been leading, serving and mentoring at all levels of the international service organization for black women. She continues the legacy of her mother, Marynette Bronner Lovejoy, who was a Zeta leader for 56 years.

Belt grew up watching her mom, a schoolteacher and librarian, invest her own life to make the lives of others a little better.

“Her mom was a great Zeta lady, and Jenelsia is, too. She kind of steps in and fills her mom’s shoes, and those are some big shoes to fill,” said fellow Zeta member Tecia McKay.

After Lovejoy died in 1998, the local Zeta chapter set up a book scholarship in her name that is awarded each year to female high school graduates continuing their education. Belt has been involved in the award and selects a special book for each recipient.

Service and scholarship defined the Atlanta home where Belt grew up.

Both parents were educators – her father, John D. Lovejoy, was a principal – and they were serious about steering all four children toward education and helping others. Books were plentiful, travel and hands-on learning were expected, and students who needed a little extra guidance found a second home with the Lovejoys.

From that backdrop, Belt has continued the legacy of service and mentoring. After high school, she began a 38-year career at the Georgia Power Company — retiring in 2009 — while attending night classes at Georgia State University to become an accountant. Then, she joined the Zeta chapter her mother helped charter, Kappa Iota Zeta in East Point.

Belt immediately made her mark as an undergraduate adviser for college Zeta chapters.

Thelma Lester, a past president and charter member of the Kappa Iota chapter, urged Belt to take the position because “she had the kind of personality and attitude to work with young people.”

Through her experiences in the corporate world, Belt was able to show young women how to navigate a tough business environment before they stepped into one. She also modeled the importance of managing time to give back, remembers Zeta member Meredith Evans who was mentored by Belt as a student at Clark Atlanta University.

“She was always inspiring us to think about what we wanted to achieve and how to get there,” Evans said. “She’s a positive person, and she shows you how to remain positive, even when things go awry.”

McKay said Belt has a gift for bringing others under her wings and taking care of them.

“I can call her about anything. Not only sorority things, but also personal things – about my job, marriage, anything. Her house is always open, too,” she said.

Like her mother, Belt has spent a lifetime in volunteer service: working with students at her alma mater, Booker T. Washington High School, through Georgia Power’s mentoring program; representing Atlanta during the Olympics and Super Bowl events; and just doing what needs to be done in hundreds of other projects through her Zeta chapter, her church, Providence Missionary Baptist, Georgia Power and various business and professional groups.

“Service to others has been an awesome investment of life and time,” Belt said.

What inspires Jenelsia Lovejoy Belt 

Husband Atlanta Police Detective David Belt: "The love of my life," says Jenelsia. He gives "100% approval" to all her volunteer service activities, often traveling with her to attend Zeta meeting and events.

Parents John and Marynette Lovejoy: As educators, they set an example through their own service to others. "Growing up, all I knew was service and scholarship."

The younger generation of women: They're very eager to serve. "As long as you're doing something they feel is worthwhile, they'll put their heart and soul in it.

"Words to live by: "If I can help somebody … then my living shall not be in vain." — Mahalia Jackson's "If I Can Help Somebody"


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