Friday, February 1, 2019

Paying Tribute to Local Leaders: Black History Month in the Making

Paying Tribute to Local Leaders: Black History Month in the Making 

by Dona Ponepinto, President and CEO, United Way of Pierce County

February is Black History Month and while there are a number of incredible past and current leaders across our country, this month we would like to acknowledge the many African American members of our community who are making history in Pierce County. 

Below you will find just a few of the impressive accomplishments of men, women and organizations that have made their mark and are leading positive change in our community today. This is by no means a complete list, but it includes educators, spiritual leaders, politicians and passionate people lending their voice and power to create positive change.

The Black Collective is a community of black people dedicated to civic engagement through volunteer service. Since 1968, they have advanced the political interests of black people, improve the educational outcomes of black students, provides social justice advocacy to black individuals and communities and increased black economic development. 

Melanie Morgan is a Democratic member of the Washington House of Representatives, representing District 29a. As the only woman of color serving on the Franklin-Pierce School Board, Melanie was instrumental in the passage of the district’s $157 million bond measure in 2016 and two school levy renewals in February 2018.

Melannie Denise Cunningham is the Greater Tacoma Peace Prize Laureate a/k/a/ 253 Peace Queen,  for her exemplary work promoting racial reconciliation.

Dr. Carla Santorno, Superintendent Tacoma Public Schools where she initiates and directs projects that positively affect students’ academic achievement and general well-being. Acting upon the strong belief that every learner can achieve and ultimately succeed.

Dr. Isiaah Crawford is president of University of Puget Sound, a recipient of national awards and he has been published on topics including post-traumatic stress, racial inequality, HIV/AIDS, sexual abuse, visual impairment, poverty, depression and more. 

Dr. Ivan Harrell, President of Tacoma Community College strives every day to lead a group of professionals in providing the best environment, programs and services students need to complete their academic and career goals.

Willie Stewart was hired by Tacoma School District in 1960 and assigned to Gault Junior High to teach life science and physical science. Stewart taught at Gault until 1966, when he was promoted to assistant principal. He was later  hired at Lincoln High School as assistant principal. In 1970, he became that first black principal in the Tacoma School District.1.

Mabel Edmonds is Vice President for Instruction at Clover Park Technical College. she provides leadership for the College's Instruction Department, which includes Baccalaureate Degrees, Professional Technical Degree and Certificate programs in a variety of career fields, Academics, Transitional Studies, eLearning, Library, Northwest Career and Technical High School, and Workforce Development/Continuing Education/Contract Training.

Andrea Cobb is Executive Director of the Center for the Improvement of Student Learning, where she acts as the State’s Educational agency’s chief research officer. She leads efforts to connect policymakers, schools, families and communities with research and information about effective educational improvement strategies.

Lyle Quasim has held leadership positions in public health and administration in Tacoma, Pierce County and the state of Washington.  In 1995, he became the first African American to head Washington's Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS). ). For 7 years he was Chief of Staff for Pierce County Executive, John Ladenburg.

Keith Blocker is a Tacoma City Council Member (D3) and he is currently the director of middle school programs for the non-profit Peace Community Center, providing academic coaching, life skills training, and early college preparation to students at Jason Lee Middle School.

T’wina Nobles, President and CEO at The Tacoma Urban League, is devoted to empowering African Americans and other disenfranchised groups to enter the economic and social mainstream. For 50 years the Tacoma Urban League has worked in a variety of ways to strengthen and support the local African American community. T’wina is also a board member on the University Place School Board.

Mary Moss is Councilwoman (Position 1) on the Lakewood City Council. Lakewood is the second largest city in Pierce County and is host to Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM) and Camp Murray. 

Victoria Woodards is the current mayor of Tacoma, Washington. She formerly served on the city council for two terms and served as the President of the Tacoma Urban League. Woodards grew up in Tacoma and attended Lincoln High School. Woodards previously served in the United States Army and was stationed at Fort Lewis.

Marilyn Strickland left office as Mayor of Tacoma after 8 years, where she was active in the U.S. Conference of Mayors and brought national attention to Tacoma. Today she is president and chief executive of the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce.

Harold Moss was the first African American to serve as mayor of Tacoma, Washington. He was also the first to serve on the Tacoma City Council and Pierce County Council.  He has been active in the Tacoma community since the 1950s when he was a member of the local branch of the NAACP.

Jim Walton was the Director of Tacoma’s Human Relations Department in 1970 and in 2003, he became the first black city manager. In 2018, he was awarded the Community Health Care Humanitarian of the Year. He also serves on the board of United Way of Pierce County.

Jessie Baines, Jr. is the Commissioner of Metro Parks helps help shape the future of the parks he grew up in, He also helps low-wage workers develop career advancement plans through the Tacoma Urban League.

Aaron Pointer was a pro baseball player for more than a decade that included playing for the Houston Colts, which later became the Astros, Chicago Cubs and later the Tacoma Cubs, a farm club. He serves as the President of the Metro Parks Board of Commissioners.

Tom Hilyard is Program Development Specialist in Tacoma’s Human Development Department. He served on the Pierce County Health Council, instrumental in writing the Federal Urban Health Initiative grant, which stabilized clinic funding.

Tom Dixon started the Tacoma Urban League in 1968. For 50 years the League has worked in a variety of ways to strengthen and support the local African American community and is devoted to empowering African Americans and other disenfranchised groups to enter the economic and social mainstream. 

Kelly Richardson is Tacoma Poet Laureate and is a writer, artist, and educator whose work explores the intersection of race, class, and gender with specific emphasis on themes of love, loss and longing.

Reverend Toney Montgomery is a spiritual leader at Fathers House Church and serves as the chair for the Tacoma Ministerial Alliance. The organization works collaboratively with many other community and faith-based organizations by advocating for freedom of worship and social and economic equality.

Reverend Gregory Christopher is the pastor of Shiloh Baptist Church in Tacoma and president of the local chapter of the NAACP. In 2017 went to Washington D.C. ready to face arrest during a demonstration supporting the Affordable Care Act. Capitol police took him and 46 other demonstrators away in handcuffs. He continues to fight for affordable care for all.

The Black Education Strategy Roundtable is a volunteer-led coalition that  actively advocates for and providing information to policymakers at all levels about the disparate conditions of educational achievement for Black students in the state of Washington, which impacts all facets of life and our communities.

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