Paw'd Defiance

Make Black Count

June 22, 2020 Tacoma Urban League President & CEO T'wina Nobles. Season 2 Episode 26
Paw'd Defiance
Make Black Count
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Paw'd Defiance
Make Black Count
Jun 22, 2020 Season 2 Episode 26
Tacoma Urban League President & CEO T'wina Nobles.

The Tacoma Urban League has been serving the Grit City for more than 50 years.The Urban League's mission is "to assist African Americans and other underserved urban residents in the achievement of social equality and economic independence." In this episode we talk with the Urban League's President & CEO T'wina Nobles about differrent programs and services the organization offers. We also discuss the Black Lives Matter Movement, the effort to Make Black Count and how Nobles overcame homelessness and hardship to get to where she is today. 

Show Notes Transcript

The Tacoma Urban League has been serving the Grit City for more than 50 years.The Urban League's mission is "to assist African Americans and other underserved urban residents in the achievement of social equality and economic independence." In this episode we talk with the Urban League's President & CEO T'wina Nobles about differrent programs and services the organization offers. We also discuss the Black Lives Matter Movement, the effort to Make Black Count and how Nobles overcame homelessness and hardship to get to where she is today. 

T'wina:

The Black Lives Matter Movement is making black count every single day. It's not a season. It's not a place. It is a mindset of Black Lives Matter every day. We have to make black count every day.

Voice Over:

From Udub, Tacoma, this is Pod Defiance.

Eric:

Welcome to Pod Defiance where we don't lecture, but we do educate. Today on the pod, a conversation with the Tacoma Urban League's President and CEO, T'wina Nobles, Udub Tacoma Staff Member Katherine Felts talks with Nobles about the Urban League's 50-year mission, to strengthen and support the local African American community. Felts and Nobles also discuss how people can get involved to push for societal change and the Urban League's efforts to make black count.

Katherine Felts:

So I guess you get started, T'wina, thank you for being here. Thank you for agreeing to this. Thank you. I know you've got a busy schedule with the Urban League, and your family, and all the other things that you're involved with. So can you start by telling us a little bit, about yourself about your journey and how you got to be some incredible well-known figure in the community?

T'wina:

Yeah, thanks. I didn't know I was incredibly well-known. So I'll talk to you about how I got here in the shortest way possible, but our family moved here as a military family about 20 years ago. My son Reese's breaking down, he is playing a video game. That's his outward enthusiasm that you might hear also. But we moved here about 20 years ago, with one child. I moved here from the south. I moved here from Alabama, and grew up mostly in Alabama and Georgia, but have lived all across the country. I was born in Germany.

T'wina:

But anyway, so I moved here, military spouse, very familiar with making new community my own, and jumping in and figuring out how to make the best of every situation. Both of my parents were also military. So I know what it's like to meet new people, incorporate a variety of opinions and interest, and create a space that's welcoming for all. But there was something unique about the Pacific Northwest that has caused me to stay here. I never felt like I fit in in the south, it's very conservative. I felt at an early age that my values were more aligned with a different type of environment. But I didn't know where until I moved here to the Pacific Northwest. I realized absolutely I'm far more progressive. I care about community, care about helping community because community is what helped me to become the person that I am today.

T'wina:

I'm sure throughout this interview, I'll be able to speak a little bit more about my past, my childhood, my experiences, but how all of those things have helped me to be more empathetic and understand real challenges that families and individuals experience. But I moved here, jumped into school. I actually started school at Tacoma Community College because I moved here in December and wanted to not wait for a semester but I made the basketball team at TCC and so decided to stay a full season instead of transferring at the start of a new semester.

T'wina:

But eventually I did transfer to University of Puget Sound, and got my undergrad and graduate degree from University of Puget Sound. Throughout all of this, when you play basketball, you start to create friends and family and I'm still friends with many of the girls that I played basketball with, that really helped me to learn more about this state. Our basketball team was West Division champs, so number one in our division, and then we were fifth in state. But I got to travel the state a little bit to see beautiful mountains and just beautiful open spaces. That was a really good incredible opportunity as a as a military spouse to have that experience.

T'wina:

At the time that I was at university of Puget Sound, our family grew. We at that point had probably experienced three deployments. I was going to school on my own or going to school and parenting on my own through those deployments. We moved here with one child and then by the time I finished my graduate degree, we had four children here. So lots happened and changed but this still was a great community. But because of my children, I got involved with PTA education was always really important to me.

T'wina:

I've always been a learner. But having children, I wanted to be more involved in education. So my children really inspired me to join PTA and to run for school board. But I am where I am because of involvement. My undergrad degrees in US politics. I started volunteering on political campaigns. I was a campaign manager for Victoria Woodards on her first city council campaign and her second. Now she's mayor of Tacoma. So that helped me really to learn the different organizations and segments of community, the different neighborhoods here in Pierce County.

T'wina:

Working on her campaign also started the beginning of an incredible mentorship or relationship with a really smart, brilliant woman here in this area. After I finished grad school, I taught for one year. It was the most horrible first year of teaching ever. So I vowed to never return to education. I stayed home with my kids for five years. I shouldn't say never return to education. I vowed to never teach again, like that was a very ... I just did not enjoy classroom teaching after that first year.

T'wina:

So I stayed home and raised my kids for the next five years, but then got this opportunity to teach in a very non traditional way to also run and manage a trio program. That teaching opportunity came with substantial funding where I got to travel with students and other teachers and help students to learn about colleges and what post-secondary education means. I did that for five years. It was really incredible. I continued to serve in different capacities in my community. After five years, that program actually sunset so the organization lost the funding for that program. At the same time, Victoria Woodards was running for mayor and she was the CEO of Tacoma Urban League. When she was running for mayor, she decided to leave the Urban League and so they needed a new CEO at the same time that my teaching position was going to end. That was like summer 2017.

T'wina:

So because of our relationship and our mentorship, and because she knew my skills and my talents, and I worked on her campaigns, although I had never been the president of a nonprofit before, but over the years, I've started my own organization, Ladies First. So I definitely had experience, but my mentor and a woman who has become a mother to me, could foresee my leadership's benefit to Tacoma Urban League, and asked the board of directors to take the risk of hiring a younger CEO, whose life experience, whose lived experience, but also professional experience would move the Urban League to the next place that it needed to be.

T'wina:

So the board listened to that and conversed with me and here I am now almost three years later, continuing to work tun the Urban League. But I have to give credit to this community for taking care of me as a young child. And by community, I don't mean just here in the PNW, but my community down south that took care of me as a young child, but also the way that this community in the Pacific Northwest has wrapped his arms around me and allowed me to just, again, bring that lived experience and my professional experience to the table, but also to grow in so many ways, to make mistakes and to be flawed but open to learning and getting better.

T'wina:

Because that has helped me to participate in opportunities that otherwise I would not have been been ready for. So I am here now leading at Tacoma Urban League. I know that I and my team have done a really incredible job just raising the profile of the organization. We have so much more to do and what's happening currently in our country and in our state, and more importantly in this city, in Tacoma, we have a great opportunity to expand the work of the Urban League, lots of folks have become more interested in the movement.

T'wina:

I mean, our movement has been ... I tell people, I mean, my life is the Black Lives Matter Movement. When you're black in America, you think about the things that people are starting to advocate for, you think about those things everyday all the time. So I'm just grateful that more people want to be involved in this work and the advocacy and change in policy, and being members and learning more and supporting our community. So I am here for such a time as this to do incredible work, to continue to learn and lead. I'm just so grateful that I have a great staff, a strong board, and now more community members to join in this work. So that is how I got here in a nutshell, 20 years now in this community that I absolutely adore and love and look forward to continuing to find ways to give back here.

Katherine Felts:

Thank you. Thank you for sharing that. I think there are a lot of things that we'll probably touch on in a little bit. But I really appreciate it. The mention about community, the mention of that network, about putting yourself in situations in a places where you may not always be represented, you may not always be comfortable, you may not always be the expert, but you know that you can do some good there and you know that if somebody gives you a shot, you're really going to make a difference, which you've shown obviously. For those maybe who don't know, all the great that you've done, could you talk to us a little bit about the Urban League? What do y'all do? What's your mission? Maybe in this present time, how are you really approaching community growth and community change?

T'wina:

Yeah, I love the Urban League's mission across the country. Urban Leagues are supporting the African American community, urban residents, underrepresented community members, underserved community members to access opportunities around healthcare, housing, education, employment and all the time, in all of those areas we are fighting for justice. Now Urban Leagues across the country do it in a variety of ways. At Tacoma Urban League, we, under my leadership, have typically have had around four or five staff. I think with Victoria around the same, there's typically around five full-time staff or part-time and full-time at Tacoma Urban League. But Urban League Metropolitan Seattle has about 50 staff.

T'wina:

So all the Urban Leagues accomplish the work in different ways depending on their budget, their capacity, the needs of the community. But for 52 years, Tacoma Urban League has been uniting this community, making sure that we are fighting big issues like redlining and discrimination as well as gentrification. We have never done this work alone. I think that's the most beautiful thing because a lot of folks now have a lot of comments here around all these white people want to be involved. But I'm like, if you look back at the marches that did feature Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., if you look back at the work of our ancestors, leaders of the past, we have always had allies who have joined us in this work.

T'wina:

I like that Tacoma Urban League on its own is going to do what it needs to do for the black community as well as other other Urban Leagues. But we always embrace and encourage other folks who want to make this movement more powerful because in order to change the culture of this country, it's going to take the change of hearts and mindsets of all of the individuals who live here. So we are grateful that 52 years ago when our founding president and CEO Mr. Thomas Dixon had this great idea with other folks in the community who were black, who were white, who were Asian and Latino, I mean, just a diversity of people who said, "We need to have an Urban League here in Tacoma."

T'wina:

I'm grateful for that vision. I'm grateful that here 52 years later, this organization is still doing this work. The issues unfortunately, have not changed much. I think it breaks my heart knowing that we are still advocating for increased representation and opportunities for black folks and other communities of color in the workplace, that we are still demanding to be treated equally in community and in those workplaces and in healthcare. So it breaks my heart that the issues are still relevant 52 years later, that we just started a program and call it by a different name, but we're demanding the same Things that our founding president and CEO was demanding.

T'wina:

But I am grateful especially now that more folks want us to help, want to help us to do this work and I do think now is is different and we have really good momentum. But Tacoma Urban League is more relevant now, I think than ever, in partnership with our local NAACP and the Black Collective, as well as a variety of other groups of Tacoma Action Collective. So we are open to new members to help us to do this work 365. It definitely is not a moment, but we're here for the long haul. I'm just a participant with other community members who care deeply about change here in our community.

Eric:

I wanted to take a quick break and talk a little more about the Tacoma Urban League. The Urban League offers a variety of resources and programs. If you visit At its website, you'll find a directory of different black owned businesses, as well as links to different action groups you can join. You'll also find a list of courses that cover everything from home ownership, to career networking.

Katherine Felts:

The mention of collaboration of really ... Again, you might be the name, you might be the CEO, folks might know your face, but it's not just you doing this work. That is important, right? You may set the tone, you may set the direction, but it is really a collective thing. I really appreciate that you mentioned some of the other folks in Tacoma that are doing this work.

Katherine Felts:

It is really about changing hearts and minds. We do need allies, we do need to really all hands on deck to be able to do this and really create meaningful change, because as you said, it's been 52 years. It's still really the same kind of issues that we're dealing with. That's unfortunate, and it's unfortunate that some people are just waking up to it. But I also want to say like welcome. There's places to get involved, there are stuff to get on board with.

T'wina:

That's right.

Katherine Felts:

So thinking of that, could you talk a little bit more about two of the programs that the Urban League runs, specifically the Male Involvement Program and Girls With Purpose?

T'wina:

Yes. So the Male Involvement Program, if my memory is correct was started under Mayor Woodard's leadership. The Male Involvement Program was a direct response to gang activity in the community. So the Urban League then was deciding how can we give black males in our community, young black males another alternative because what we know about gangs is the concept is you have family, you belong somewhere, someone is looking out for you. Someone cares for you. We all need that, we all want to feel loved.

T'wina:

So anyway, our Male Involvement Program is just a positive opportunity for black Males and other males of color to mentor young black men and other young men of color. MIP has white youth who are in it too. I think at the end of the day, we want to just provide an environment that says, "We care. We see you. You belong here." Also, I love that the conversations in MIP acknowledge a lot of the trauma that are youth experienced. Our MIP program runs in some of the communities that have the highest population of previously incarcerated people, highest populations of people of color. So I love that in our MIP program, we don't just offer programming but our mentors pay attention to the other barriers that our youth experienced.

T'wina:

A lot of them live in food deserts, have family members that have been or are incarcerated, or have passed away due to violence. It's not everyone, but we go into schools asking for some of the hardest to reach youth, youth who might feel disconnected from the academic experience, but obviously they have to go to school. So we we want to make sure that youth that maybe other teachers or admins, adults might have already given up on, and we want them to know that in our male involvement program, they're part of a large brotherhood.

T'wina:

I mean, we also have a program at First Creek Middle school, Stewart Middle School, Gray Middle School, and Lister Elementary, and our mentors also have some relationship with high schoolers at Lincoln High School, but this is a large brotherhood. It's not just about programming at one school. A lot of these youth go from Lister to First Creek to Lincoln. So it's also to keep them connected and involved throughout their academic experience, but it has been significantly impactful for the youth and not only do they have these weekly conversations.

T'wina:

Now during COVID, we switch to an online platform. So young men are on Zoom Wednesdays and Thursdays. But it's not just the conversations. They also do a variety of field trips, have a variety of speakers. Now during COVID-19, the team has started this kind of agricultural project and purchase seeds and all the supplies and drop them off at all of young men's houses. I have shared at least one picture of them growing plants at home and just talking through our responsibility, taking care of this earth, like what it means to plant the seed and nourish something, and watch it turn into something else, and how we also have that type of responsibility in our community for each other, for those younger than.

T'wina:

But when you put your heart and soul and when you can nurture something, you can watch it to grow into something stronger and better. So we have that opportunity each day as mentors and as youth and as brothers in community. Well, I'm not a brother, but they're so cool that, you know, I wish I could be part of the brotherhood, but I'm fostering sisterhood. And so we'll talk about GWP. But I love MIP. A lot of folks have come to that program and you know have come back to the Urban League. Deputy Mayor Keith Blocker was a mentor in MIP when he worked at Tacoma Urban League. So I know that youth and adults who are affiliated with Tacoma Urban League become outstanding community members. So here is an opportunity to grow our Urban League family, to start younger, and to expect that these young people will take these concepts and give back to this community in a positive way.

T'wina:

We know from the anecdotes from teachers, from admin that MIP is making a positive impact in improving academic outcomes in the before school, and during school, and after school programming that we offer. So MIP has a conference coming up in July. That's a two-day virtual conference with some incredible speakers, Marcus Trufant did a great promo video for us that we'll be dropping soon. But I'm really proud of that program. It has paid staff, paid mentors. There are several volunteers but it's a paid opportunity. The men who run that program take it very seriously. They continue to grow as better men and fathers in the community. They are doing just really amazing work for the students.

T'wina:

The girls program is a little bit different. Eight years ago, I started a program called Ladies First, it was a for-profit business. I did Ladies First for a number of years. But when I came to the Urban League ... Well let me back up. Even before I started working as a CEO of the Urban League, I would run their girls program. So as a consultant from Ladies First I would run this program that we named Girls With Purpose. So the Urban League did not have paid staff to run their girls program. But I would always provide those opportunities to lead those programs and services in the summer or during the school year.

T'wina:

When I started working as the CEO, I figured instead of me running my Ladies First programming, and then doing this separate thing called GWP or Girls With Purpose at Tacoma Urban League, that I wanted to roll all those things together and keep the partners that I was working with before Girl Scouts, Greater Tacoma Community Foundation, the YMCA, I wanted us to stay together and offer programming and not worry about branding. I didn't want people confusing my work with Ladies First with what the Urban League was doing, especially because the Urban League is a nonprofit. Ladies First was always for profit.

T'wina:

So we just created something that was new and different and called it and continue to call it Sisterhood in the City. So when we talk about Sisterhood in the City, it is a partnership with ... I get to wear my expertise hat from Ladies First. It is Tacoma Urban League Girls With Purpose, and all of the partners who come to the table, but no one like own Sisterhood in the City. It is just how can we welcome all girls from across the city.

T'wina:

For MIP, there are experiences like our summer camp and conference where you don't have to go to one of our school sites to be a part of MIP. But also Sisterhood in the City allowed us to not just offer the program to where the schools that our programs were being offered in. But any girl in our city could participate. It was offered in the evening versus during school or before school or after school on the school site. The entire goal is all of us, we love girls, we love women. We want to create a more positive sisterhood, where we know that we are better together. So many of us have these stories of when we were younger, I know for me and several of my friends, I would always say like, "Oh, I don't hang out with girls. There's so much drama." This is when I was in middle school and high school.

T'wina:

I felt more comfortable being friends with boys and I just felt like girls were so catty and all these different things. It took me to start Ladies First to really understand and start Ladies First and work more intentionally with other women because initially, when I started Ladies First it was so I could be a positive influence in the lives of girls. But what I realized was this was an opportunity to transform relationships and the thought processes of women and girls across the city.

T'wina:

Many of us wanted to do the same thing we want. We want young women to know early that we are an incredible group of beings, and we need to believe in each other and support each other. It's difficult in this country for women because of sexism and patriarchy. So we have to stick together and support each other. But that is learned because a lot of the messages are that women should be divisive and catty. There's room for only one of us at the top or in this space or at the table. That's just not true. But we recognize we have to teach that, we have to introduce it, we have to talk about it, we have to comb through it and support each other as we're learning that practice, but also like putting it into action.

T'wina:

We are fostering healthy relationships, exposing young people in MIP and GWP to so many volunteer and community opportunities. We've partnered with the zoo for both programs. Our youth have gone on to be ambassadors or volunteers with point defiance. We've volunteered with a variety of other organizations like I mentioned, the YMCA or the YWCA, with athletes, with sporting facilities to get access to elite coaches for our youth who typically typically, like me, were not able to participate in any rec sports.

T'wina:

I mean, my family did not put any money in rec sports due to a lot of the barriers that we were experiencing as kids. So we just we try to think outside the box and how can we help these kids to develop socially, emotionally, physically? How can we give them the best opportunities. But as a nonprofit, raise the money so they don't have to worry about paying for it. All of our experiences in both of those programs are free. All of our field trips, we've taken youth and families to Eastern Washington or to Ellensburg, to renewable energy plants. I mean, we've done incredible things and it should not cost them. The community should take that on so we can provide the exposure.

Katherine Felts:

Thank you for that. That's that all sounds amazing. I think it's great that you mentioned like it should be free. There should be all of these opportunities. there does need to be a robust amount of ... It shouldn't just be STEM, it should also be like environment and leadership and community. I really loved when you talked about the Men Involvement Program, giving seeds to the students and encouraging them to grow. That connection of not just like to themselves and what their skills are, and the time and energy that they put into growing those things, but to have this physical reminder of that the time and energy you invest into something will help it grow and will help it to thrive. If we do that for ourselves and if we do that for each other, we can really create amazing things. We can really have gardens that like feed us off, so really appreciate that. Yeah, would love to kind of follow how those programs develop.

Katherine Felts:

As we were talking about the things, it really did make me think of the effort from the Urban League to make black count and get everybody involved in the census. I think actually, as we are looking at the violence that's happening across the United States and really examining some of the systems that have allowed this violence to continue, and even to seemingly increase during this time, you mentioned like programs changing really rapidly and being put on hold and paused because of COVID. Unfortunately, racism isn't stopping for anything. There is no pause for this. So can you talk to us a little bit about making black count, about what the census means? How it helps our communities, and how that might impact the future of our systems?

T'wina:

Yeah, and one thing I've really tried to communicate to folks who email me and say, "Hey, I'm looking to be a part of the Black Lives Matter Movement or can you connect me with an organization that's part of the Black Lives Matter Movement?" I'm like, the Black Lives Matter movement is making black count every six every single day. It's not a season. It's not a place. It is a mindset of Black Lives Matter every day, we have to make black count every day.

T'wina:

What we really try to do with our make black count saying and campaign is this is a call for engagement at consistently. It is for census. It's also for voter registration, voter turnout. It's also for run for office. It's also for advocacy and justice. So it is broad, but daily and always important, and there are no days off. What we want now is for more folks to stay engaged to help us to accomplish this work year round. There's a lot of interest now, but I keep telling folks, subscribe to our website, we are having conversations, and doing events, and looking for volunteers all the time.

T'wina:

Nothing about our work has changed so much. Nothing allows us to now take on 50 volunteers for a thing now. It is like, I need those same 50 volunteers year round all the time. I want folks to understand too even as we talk about census, the bigger picture is ongoing engagement and involvement in democracy and owning that as a black community. So it is, yes, pay attention and participate in the census. But we also have to be ready for redistricting and participating in those processes.

T'wina:

Our mission is to make light black every single day. I think that's the one thing I want to communicate to folks who are asking, especially right now, to get involved, that it's people have to be committed to doing this work for the long haul. They don't have to do this with us every day, but just recognizing the work is daily. The work is long-term. We will accept them to give what they can when they can, and we will continue to be here.

T'wina:

But the gains that we want to see, obviously, we haven't seen them all in 400 years. So we have to continue to do this work. But that is why we are you no open and welcoming of folks who say, "I'm here now. I want to help or I have to step back because of things happening in my family or my life or whatever is the case."

T'wina:

So we are committed to making black count because we have to be here and available and not seasonal. When there are incidents that happened in our community, the community needs to know that when we ... I'm grateful that even the Ellis family while the Urban League tried to connect the Ellis family to the NAACP here in Tacoma because we don't necessarily ... The NAACP works with attorneys and takes on different cases and fights discrimination in a different way. But recognizing that here even in Pierce County, we have a young person who lost their life at the hands of police here in our county in this city here in Tacoma, we immediately are jumping onto the legislative piece and the policy piece.

Katherine Felts:

You mentioned it before, and I think it's really important just in general, there are so many ways to show up, but there are certain ways that are going to be more effective and that we do need people to really concentrate on. I appreciate what you said, like the Urban League is doing this work every day, right? Again, some folks are just now waking up or figuring out how they can get involved. That's incredible. But it's not a moment, like you said, it's not new. It's not something that's going to be temporary. This is 365 as you said.

Katherine Felts:

So folks that are interested, that do want to be allies, that do want to learn, that do want to contribute, listen. Follow a little bit. Take a look at what is already being done. As you mentioned, you guys have policy suggestions, you've got days of action where folks can get in. I mean, I've seen a home-buying course, there's so many ways to really figure out how you can make that change. Everybody doesn't have to make the same one. But there's tons of folks that you can listen to and that youcan follow that are making good change.

T'wina:

That's such a good point. I think that's again, why I love the work of Tacoma Urban League because there are so many entry points to this work, right? I mean, we have someone that is making blankets to support the doulas in our Black and Fit Health Work, our maternal health work. so the doulas will be able to use those blankets and give it to moms at delivery. We have volunteers who are helping folks who are messaging us like, "I want to put together a protest and want to make sure I'm doing it right."

T'wina:

These are new needs, but we put together a group of volunteers to say, "Do some research, organize some tips and walk people through," because our staff is really the four of us now. A lot of these things are falling onto my plate or our office manager's plate, but disproportionately a lot on my plate because we don't have someone in office whose job it is to do that.

T'wina:

So we have welcomed volunteers to help people organize protests or all the different groups who are wanting to raise money on behalf of Tacoma Urban League, like that is helping the movement, right? So they're not doing anything different. A few folks who own a pottery business or a brewery, they're going to keep doing what they're doing. But even donating the funds to support the movement is helping to get the message out that we have to make black count every day. So there are so many entry points and also so many ways to pivot. But gosh, we are more impactful when we're all doing it together, all communicating that same message that yes, Black Lives Matter and we will make black count in our community and in our country.

Katherine Felts:

Thank you. Thank you for saying that and using those words. Because I think it is important to say that. It's Black Lives Matter if we're not uplifting those lives, then we're really not going to be able to uplift anything else. If we're not starting with the people who are the most marginalized or the most affected by police violence, or by poverty, or by redistricting, and redlining, then we're not really serving a whole realistically, even if folks can't see that.

Katherine Felts:

So a couple of things that I wanted to touch on, and I think that we'll kind of move us into the next question. So you've mentioned before your kind of path and your family and how it wasn't necessarily traditional and it certainly wasn't easy. Even as we've been chatting, like you've had these things you've had to go do because you are a CEO, and a mom, and a friend and you've got all these connections in the community.

Katherine Felts:

There are folks that that demand your time and that you want to give your time to. But given all that you do and all that you've had to get through to get here, do you feel like you have certain skills or strengths or abilities that really make you uniquely talented at this or make better able to do this work?

T'wina:

Definitely. Like things, and I want to encourage folks to be able to speak positively, and affirmatively, and confidently about their own skills. There is a tendency to believe that by recognizing our strengths and communicating them that it makes us arrogant or not humble. But I think it makes you smart because I also recognize that it is far easier for people to speak about their weaknesses or what they're not good at or opportunities for growth.

T'wina:

But I think you can also give yourself credit for what you know you do bring to the table. So I definitely know that I do well collaborating with individuals. I love to learn about different people, different interests. I oftentimes like to enter a space and just listen, listen to the pieces and communicate a strategy or solution. I came to Tacoma Urban League and did this immediate assessment. I had a little knowledge because as I mentioned I was working by leading a girls program there. But I'm really good at just doing assessments and saying, "I think this is how all these pieces can come together."

T'wina:

Everybody's contribution can be at work here and no one's is better than or more important than or less important than. So I do really well like just taking a look and assessing situations and offering up some type of solution or strategy to include as many of us as possible. Also, because of my lived experience, having been in foster care, being abused physically, sexually verbally, living in homeless shelters, living with other people, living in the projects, knowing what you know is like to hold food stamp booklets in your hand and go to the store or having a parent that was addicted to crack, experiencing divorce, having experience as a military spouse, but also military child, having siblings.

T'wina:

Gosh, these things give me so much empathy and perspective and help me to understand the realness of of situations. I mean, being a family that did not own a car. Well, my mom owned the car when we were younger. I know people choose to not be car owners and want to be car-less and use public transportation or bike or walk or whatever. But it wasn't a choice. It was because of mismanaged resources due to addiction. But even knowing what it's like to not have a car, and to have to walk miles with bags of groceries, groceries that you had to steal, because we were taught to still have our groceries when we were kids.

T'wina:

So we would go and steal everything from soap to pot roast and put it in our clothes and go around back and put it in bags and walk home with all that stuff. So I have a different understanding and different empathy, especially for young people who are going through those things because I know that you can dog on near experience anything and choose to turn your life around or connect with the right community group or organization and turn your life around.

T'wina:

I mean, my belief in black women as leaders from watching women as a child run and manage many of the shelters that we lived in, many of the businesses that I encountered when I lived in the south but just watching the grace, and elegance, and compassion, and work ethic of incredible black women, so my experiences help me to start actualizing and imagining and envisioning the type of woman and mom and community member and business leader that I want it to be.

T'wina:

So every single thing that I have gone through and seen is a strength of mine because I know what it feels like. I know what it feels like to be worried about someone entering your home violently because a parent has stolen from them to buy drugs. I know what it smells like in a homeless shelter, right? I know what it feels like and how heavy of a burden it is to be responsible for taking care of your siblings at an early age, to have to step into adulthood.

T'wina:

All of those experiences I have chosen to allow them to be strengths of mine, to better understand the world that we live in, to better understand the needs, the gaps and to communicate to folks like it's not your fault and there's something you could do about it or you definitely don't deserve that. There is still something that you can do about it. So my lived experience is a tremendous strength in my ability to lead and understand. Also, I think, being a woman, being a black woman, being a mother, all strengths, being able to multitask and manage many things, being able to prioritize is a huge strength.

T'wina:

The other thing that I do that I know sometimes folks leave out when they're managing lots of big responsibilities, self care. I believe I'm pretty good at self care, at going to sleep when I need to, taking care of myself, whether it's personal hygiene things that are important to me or getting rest or still reading books, reading articles, writing handwritten notes, and correspondence to folks because that's what's important to me, taking the time to check my mail every day because that is something that excites me and I look forward to doing it.

T'wina:

Practicing self care is a strength, making sure that I tap into things like therapy or sharing and talking with my friends and family, those things are strengths that sometimes as leaders and as women or moms, we tend to take off the table when we're giving to others. But I fully believe that I will never be able to give my best to others if I don't give my best to myself first. So being selfish and taking care of myself is fully a strength of mine. So those are some things, I think I'm able to lead and give back because I take care of myself, because I understand other's stories and perspectives, not all of them, right?

T'wina:

There are still lots of nuances in this work. But because of all that I have experienced and been through, I likely have a story or a connection or can get to what someone might be feeling or thinking and can share that with them. There are lots of other ways where I simply cannot. I haven't had every experience, but I'm grateful for all the ones that I've had. I think it's important to do this work not on my own. I never feel like I'm by myself at the Urban League. I don't feel like I'm by myself raising my children or taking care of my family. I do not feel like I'm by myself in doing this work to make black count or to serve this community. Many individuals brilliant, smart, caring individuals stand alongside me and I'm extremely grateful. So I bring my strengths, and I try to value and recognize the strengths of others and check my own self when I'm not doing so it's not a perfect process.

Katherine Felts:

I'm really glad that you said that. I'm really glad that you framed it in that way. I think I mentioned I work in career development, and a lot of our students, they don't want to brag on themselves. They don't want to talk about what their strengths are, they feel like that's not quite right. That it's not what you're supposed to do. I know for so many communities of color, you don't want to be big headed. You don't want to brag, you know what it'd be like, maybe outside of your britches. Right? But I think that's really something that prevents a lot of us from reaching those points, from becoming the CEOs and the community leaders.

T'wina:

Can I just add?

Katherine Felts:

Yeah.

T'wina:

Can also add, Katherine, that the other thing that I love about like relationships and the relationships, I have with folks in the community who we would say are the leaders, are the movers or shakers, the one thing that I recognize about everybody is we are also flawed and just trying to figure it out each day. I mean, literally, the folks that we attribute with being some of the most wealthiest people in his community still have issues with family, with maybe one of their kids being on drugs or struggling with drugs themselves or issues with housing or paying bills and it may not be a $1200, it maybe more like a $12 million bill but just like figuring out bankruptcy and debt, and still struggle with relationship, and love, and self worth.

T'wina:

I think that's the thing too that my experience has really released me from ever feeling like you make it or you you get there. As long as we are human and on this earth, we're going to be flawed, we're going to struggle. We're going to desire to belong and to be loved. Our feelings will be hurt. We're going to make mistakes. We're going to fall flat on our face. And I think the only thing that we can ever do is just get back up and try again, to believe like this isn't the last opportunity.

T'wina:

This is a country that loves a good comeback story, loves an underdog. So I try to tell people like all of the things that make you imperfect are the things that will help you to be most successful as long as you channel them as ways to get better and to do more for this community or to grow from. So it's not that the flaws are a terrible thing. But if they're not working for us or if they're not working for our community, we just need to use them, right, frame them in a way that we're able to use or even if using them means learn from them.

T'wina:

It may be habits that we need to stop doing, but like learn from them to get better or to do good in the community, but I don't know any person, and I mean from some of the most powerful to the most wealthiest in my network and in the city that does not struggle with all the basic things that the average college student would struggle with. So just so people understand, I guess my point is it will never stop, you will never reach this point of now everybody likes me. Now everybody loves me. Now I fully love myself.

T'wina:

It's just like, as long as we're living life, we have to keep navigating those situations, but everything that we learn and go through helps us to navigate them better and differently, and more positively. But the challenges of life will not stop no matter what the career is, no matter the marriage that you're in or if you choose not to be married, or if you have kids or choose not to have kids. Life is going to give you as twists and turns. It's just our experience helps us to better navigate those situations like that is my hope. I always say like my greatest goal is to be an older black woman because of the wisdom, the knowledge, the unapologetic living that a more seasoned black woman gets to walk around with. That is my ultimate goal because I will know better and therefore, I will do better.

T'wina:

I like this pastor named Rich Wilkerson, who always says the best is yet to come. I believe that. So everything that happens now, the goal is for everything to get better because I know better, I understand more, I can be more compassionate, more empathetic. So I believe that the best is yet to come. But we have to hang in there and give it our best shot, and work with others so we can achieve that, so we can so we can get there. But life, it's hard. It's a challenge, period, for everybody.

Katherine Felts:

Yes. Thank you, thank you for saying that. Yeah, that is exactly what I would want to convey. That's exactly where I was going with it. Everyone at every level, no matter how much you've accomplished, no matter where you came from, how much privilege you might have, or how much obstacles you might have, you're not going to be able to stop learning. Even if you get what you want, there's going to be another goal, there's going to be another obstacle. There's going to be Somebody else who's a little bit smarter, who's a little bit more prepared. It's hard, right? But that doesn't mean that you should stop. It doesn't mean that we should look away or give up rest.

Katherine Felts:

Like you said, take that time to care for yourself. Do the basics, carve out time to be selfish because that's how we sustain movements. But know that yeah, you're going to make mistake, and it's okay, take responsibility for it, and keep it moving. So thank you, I really, really appreciate that. I think again, we can hear it all day, we can hear from our mom, we can hear it from our friends, but sometimes you just need to hear from that one person that you really want to be like. So I hope for folks listening that it'll really hit home for them to hear you say that.

Katherine Felts:

So we've spent quite a lot of time and I know you've got a busy life. So I want this last question to guide us out and it'll kind of be a twofer. You touched on it a little bit or leaned toward it a little bit, but what do you envision as the future of Tacoma? What is your hope for how we can move forward and use this time to catalyze change? For those younger folks listening who want to become leaders who want to make a positive impact in their community, do you have any suggestions for how they can get involved with this future?

T'wina:

Yeah, I continue to see the future of Tacoma and our community as bright and vibrant. I think what we are experiencing now with these crisis and pandemics, Coronavirus, racism, and us having for the first time in a very long time, a moment to pause and be available to think about injustice, to think about changes that need to continue to happen in this country, I do believe that we will see lots of folks stick with this to make this community better, to make this city better.

T'wina:

I think we have some new soldiers and activists and believers in this work. So I see Tacoma as better, changed, stronger, more united in the future. We've lost some businesses because of this pandemic. But we will see stronger, new, better businesses that will pop up. We've lost some jobs. But I believe the workforce will be stronger, more innovative, more green in the future. So I see for this city, a greater commitment by its residents, those who are here now, those will those who will come because of military or because of the exciting precedent that Tacoma will be setting, I think we have a great opportunity to handle this Manuel Ellis case the right way.

T'wina:

That will encourage people in the power of demanding change, demanding accountability. I also even more immediately see a difference in even things like these government contracts with difference in policing. I don't think this community is going to rest until we see some immediate change. So I envision great things in the longer term future the next several decades, but I see change happening in the next several weeks and months because this community will be relentless. As far as getting involved, now is the best time the best opportunity.

T'wina:

Several people now see what has been happening and can now hear what we have been communicating as wrongdoings in this country. Other folks have known and some people just are not there yet and may never get there. But I think now is the best time to become a member of the Urban League, to get involved on college campuses, to join in NACP, to come to the weekly meetings of the Black Collective, to create that organization that you have been thinking of that actually fills a need that's not being met in our community.

T'wina:

But involvement right now is tapping in and tuning in, and getting involved in a way that's meaningful and accessible to you. Right? Not everyone, literally because of physical ability can show up to a protest. But there may be an opportunity for you to pick up the phone and call legislator, to pay attention to some of the legislative priorities and agendas that are being put out by the black community or other underrepresented community members. Use your artwork, use your voice, use your talent, use your passion for academia to create change.

T'wina:

So I'm encouraging everyone with what you have and with where you're willing to push yourself out of your comfort zone, to use that energy, to use that skill, that talent to tap in and help us to create change in this community. For folks who have been doing that work way longer than I have even been on the face of this earth, thank you. Thank you for your resilience. I don't want to in this conversation without acknowledging there are people before me who who have communicated like get involved, be active because they have been doing it for 30, 40, 50, 60, 70 years. So I just want to honor them and thank them for their commitment. So I am here. I am going to continue to be willing to roll my sleeves up and to get to work. I am just encouraging all who are interested right where you are, where you stand with what you have to join us in this movement.

Voice over:

Thank you to our guests and thank you for listening. Be sure to like and subscribe. You can find us on Spotify, Google Podcasts, Pocket Cast, Stitcher and Apple Podcasts.