When I first walked through the doors of the Tacoma Urban League (TUL) as CEO in August of 2017, I knew I was doing so as the new caretaker of a historical legacy central to how the Black community defined Tacoma’s destiny since its inception. Thomas Dixon and Harold Moss founded TUL in 1968 to provide Black people with an institutional agent dedicated to those who are historically disenfranchised. Their goal was to provide economic, educational, and social empowerment. When Mr. Moss was elected as Tacoma’s first Black mayor in 1994, and then Pierce County’s first Black county councilmember in 1996, he cemented that legacy by affirming the Urban League’s importance as a cultural and political cornerstone of our shared regional history. The righteous path he walked paved the way for countless others who have followed in his footsteps – fighting for more equitable access to the American dream for communities who have been unjustly excluded from opportunities to share in our state’s economic prosperity. Victoria Woodards, who worked for Mr. Dixon and followed in Mr. Dixon and Moss’s footsteps eventually becoming CEO of Tacoma Urban League and mayor of Tacoma, reaffirmed how the Urban League’s platform could elevate leaders from the Black community into critical positions of elected power.
Every day I have served as the Tacoma Urban League’s CEO, I have worked not just to fulfill, but also build upon, that proud legacy. None of us succeed without the efforts of those who came before us. It’s important to me that I honor my predecessors by virtue of my own intentionality and dedication to the values that TUL represents. It’s said that once you’re an Urban Leaguer, you’re always an Urban Leaguer – and I hope my election to the State Senate, where I’ll join the most diverse freshman class of legislators in Washington state’s history, signals that people are ready for our government to get an infusion of some Urban League-style Black girl magic.
I wouldn’t have achieved this success without the incredible community of people in and around the Urban League who have supported me through the inevitable climate of being CEO. My service has always been an effort to give back to those who have entrusted me with this profound responsibility, and I’m proud of the programs I’ve stewarded during my time with TUL.
Under my leadership and through collaborative work with our board, staff, auxiliaries and community partners, in 2018, we launched our elegant annual Empowerment Awards gala to recognize community and Black excellence. We orchestrated the first State of Black Tacoma event in 2019 and again in 2020, working to educate the broader public, stakeholders, and lawmakers about unmet needs in the community that perpetuate poverty and unjust cycles. This event originated from my own experience directing several local projects on the Urban League’s behalf. In 2019 we established the Black Empowerment Center to close the racial wealth gap in Washington state through dedicated financial education training resources. We took this step to help folks improve their credit and reduce the burden that outsized debt obligations create in our community. In 2019 we were recognized as the Most Improved Affiliate by our national office. In 2020 we created and published a first of its kind local Black Business Directory to help our entrepreneurs establish and grow their customer base. Through the T’wina Nobles Young Professionals Scholarship, we have awarded eight students with scholarship funds as they pursue technical and career training at Tacoma Community College and Bates Technical College. The Urban League has also funded healthcare for staff for the first time in almost a decade and dedicated mental health assistance to help people struggling against the impossible choices presented to them amid the pandemic. More families are struggling now under the duress of COVID-19, and we wanted to ensure TUL is showing up and helping those in need during this incredibly difficult time.
This work has elevated TUL’s profile at the statewide and national level – and opened the door for broader partnerships that reach beyond city boundaries to touch regional issues that impact the health and vitality of the local Black community. I’m grateful for the opportunity to serve as a founding member and managing partner of the Black Future Co-op Fund, an organization founded during the 2020 pandemic and largest civil rights movement of our time and led by Black women leaders in collaboration with the state’s sizable philanthropic establishment. The fund will funnel desperately needed economic resources to projects that specifically support the needs of the Black community in Washington state. This year we raised over 15 million dollars for the fund. While this is no replacement for the systemic policy changes that I hope to affect in Olympia, it’s an important acknowledgment of the distance we still have to go to ensure all Washingtonians can equitably access the fruits of our state’s prosperity.
The local collaborations we have established in service to the community reflect a vision that I feel honors the Tacoma Urban League’s core mission – work that will inform my approach to legislative problem-solving in our state’s capital as well.
But this is also why, with a heavy heart, after deep introspection and ongoing consultation with the TUL board of directors, I must announce that I am soon stepping down from the CEO position.
Rest assured, I will provide the counsel, mentorship, and guidance necessary to support the next leader who steps in to fill the CEO role for the Tacoma Urban League – but, along with the community, I will also hold them accountable to high expectations for performance and results as my predecessor did for me.
I feel confident I have left Tacoma Urban League in a strong position to succeed well into the future. We are finally debt-free and now have several multi-year commitments from statewide philanthropic organizations totaling over a million dollars. TUL now has a well-established cadence of annual events, including our Empowerment Awards Gala, Holiday Luau, and the State of Black Tacoma – creating regular opportunities to coalesce support for the organization and honor its history and legacy in our community.
Since walking through the doors on that first day, I have been blessed with a wealth of new friends, collaborators, and allies on a challenging but rewarding journey. I hope those who have entrusted me with this role understand that my decision isn’t a departure from the Tacoma Urban League and the important legacy it represents, but rather a fulfillment of it – and an opportunity to escalate my core purpose here into a statewide venue where I can make positive, systemic changes that I hope will echo across our state for generations to come.
I have one final request as CEO before I depart – and that is to join me in serving and lifting the next person who comes to fill this role after I leave. I can’t think of any better way to fulfill the important legacy of the leaders that have come up through the Urban League like Thomas Dixon, Harold Moss, and Victoria Woodards. I wouldn’t be where I am without the community around me, and I can’t wait to see how the next generation of leadership at Tacoma Urban League continues to expand on our work to build a better future in partnership with the people and community that I cherish so deeply.