“There is no limit to what we, as women, can accomplish.” -Michelle Obama
We’re watching the world change before our eyes and it looks like the future depends heavily on a woman’s touch. Women have come a long way, but there’s still more work to do.
In the meantime, let’s celebrate the women who continue to break glass ceilings, challenge problematic traditions, and create equitable places for all. Here’s to the ones who believe the limit does not exist.
What limit? Said the first woman vice president; the first Black vice president; and the first Asian American vice president–Kamala Harris.
What limit? Said historic women of color elected House Delegates in New Mexico – Deb Haaland, Teresa Fernandez, and Yvette Herrell.
What limit? Said the nation’s first-ever youth poet laureate–Amanda Gorman.
Welcome to the first of a four-part series sharing stories of women making the Grit City grittier. Some chose to touch Tacoma with a paintbrush, a song or a pen. All continue to ask…what limit?
CANDACE WESLEY – Community Leader & Activist
Candace, founder of Tacoma Cease Fire, is a community leader, social activist, pastor, and hairstylist.
To Candace, her credentials are all fancy resume lingo. Her driving passion is in serving and mobilizing the community against gun violence and social injustices. She’s not worried about labels, praise or credit for the work she’s doing. With the utmost grace and humility she says,
“I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing…I want to do my part whatever that looks like at that time whether it’s helping give food or high fives or being a voice for people who don’t have one. I just love when my community wins.”
Candace gets her spirit of servitude from her mama and inspiration, Mrs. Jean Jackson, who is an iconic fixture in Tacoma for the work she did with Tacoma Housing Authority.
“I grew up in a family that served the community. My mom inspires my work today. She was constantly helping people in need and everyone knows her and her work because of it.”
Her journey hasn’t always been easy and many times she thought of quitting. In reflecting on those moments Candace tearfully shared why even at the lowest of lows, she had to keep fighting for her community–and it all comes back to spreading love and kindness.
“People are hurting and losing hope. In their struggles, they forget their value and that their life is full of promise. They need love and kindness and reminders to celebrate the good, even in times of intense struggle.”
Her love for Tacoma, her love for God’s people and her love for serving are what continue to drive Candace’s work to make Tacoma a better place.
More on Candace’s initiative to end gun violence here: Tacoma Cease Fire
YOGA WILD’S CASEY & KELSEY – Yoga & Community Engagement
Yoga Wild is not your typical yoga company. Casey and Kelsey are not your typical yoga facilitators…it’s their thing and they own it completely. For these business owners and stay-at-home moms, yoga is more than backbends and handstands, it’s an opportunity to practice self-care for collective care.
Casey says, “One of my biggest issues with yoga in the west is the focus on individualism. It’s selfish self-care. You have to rest and take care of yourself. But why? Because you have a responsibility to your family, community, and environment. We can’t be our most effective until our nervous system and mental health is in check first.”
Though part of the wellness industry themselves, they recognize the glaring disparities within a culture that lacks intersectionality and instead promotes harmful body image messages.
“Yoga in the west markets gymnastics and sells able-bodied, white, cis-gendered women. When we did Tacoma night markets and talked to people we constantly heard ‘I’m not flexible enough’ or ‘I just need to lose 10 pounds before I go to class.’ We’ve always tried to be very intentional on our platform to not market yoga in a way that perpetuates harm and exclusivity.”
Creating space for inclusive yoga classes is part of their aligning mission of community engagement and connection. Since starting Yoga Wild three years ago they’ve shifted from pop-up shop to studio owners to content creators.
Kelsey and Casey are committed to using their privilege, resources, and voice to uplift marginalized and underrepresented communities in Tacoma.
“We understand that we are two white women that own a yoga company and do our best to honor its roots while engaging with present-day challenges.”
*Due to COVID-19, YW pivoted from a studio format to teaching solely online. There are no current intentions of re-opening the studio until it is completely safe for everyone.
Check out YW classes and offerings here:
KIARA DANIELS – Community Leader
A Fab-5 social justice activist. A longtime community advocate and organizer. A recipient of the City of Tacoma’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Emerging Leader Award. We’re just scraping the surface of her impact, but it’s safe to say Kiara Daniels is a force of love for Tacoma.
Kiara has been in service work since she was a kid tagging along with her mom to night classes at Evergreen State College. Both of her parents were heavily involved in community work and because of their influence she has always understood the importance of activism.
What she didn’t understand was how to make the changes necessary to help communities overcome the weight of systemic oppression. That is, until she followed in her mom’s footsteps earning her Master’s degree in Public Administration at Evergreen State College.
“At Evergreen, I really started connecting the dots that systemic changes could be made through policy. Going to school gave me the know-how to solve the problems I saw in housing, education, and business development while volunteering and living on Hilltop.”
Today, she is focused on ensuring everyone in Tacoma has access to basic human rights. At the top of her list is safe and affordable housing and small business support.
How? Well, Senator T’wina Nobles might have something to do with it.
“People have been telling me to run for City Council for a long time, but it wasn’t until Senator Nobles won her campaign that I truly thought there could be a space in the government for a Black woman like me..that I could hopefully inspire other young black girls, as T’wina inspired me, to have a place and voice in politics.”
Daniels is officially running for Tacoma City Council position 6. Her “Love Our City” is the belief system and action mantra she plans to lead her campaign with.
“If I’m going to say I love this city, how am I going to practice that? How do I show my love? In 50 years from now, I want to be able to see the result of all the love I’ve shown Tacoma.”
Learn more about her campaign here >>> kiaradaniels.com
TAMIKO NIMURA – Writer & Public Historian
Tamiko is a third-generation Japanese American and second-generation Filipina American freelance writer, public historian, community journalist and author.
Pen in hand, or keyboard, she uses words as an artistic expression of her love for culture, history, people and of course, Tacoma.
Writing may be Tamiko’s passion in life, but storytelling for people of color has made a rippling impact on Tacoma’s diverse community.
“I am passionate about the work that words do and how they bring people together. I am lucky to call this my work.”
A core focus of her work is in bringing to life an accurate and detailed account of Japanese history and culture in Tacoma. Along with a group of scholars, she is raising awareness of Tacoma’s prewar Japanese American community and Japantown (Nihonmachi) through writing, walking tours and Day of Remembrance.
The annual Day of Remembrance commemorates the eviction of Japanese Americans from Tacoma. With an app she co-created, anyone can take a self-guided tour of Tacoma’s historic Japantown. She is also consulting with Washington State Historical Society on their Japanese American Remembrance Gallery and curriculum.
“I want to see Tacoma honor and preserve the rich histories of its BIPOC residents, but we’re not quite there yet.”
Much of Nimura’s work is founded on social justice and community service. When she puts the pen down, she’s giving a helping hand to those in need. Along with sister and artist, Teruko Nimura, she has distributed mental health care packages with handmade objects to Food is Free tables across the city.
See more of Tamiko’s written work here >>> https://www.tamikonimura.net/
PHEBE BRAKO-OWUSU – Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist
Ghana’s greatest gift to Tacoma comes in the form of Phebe Brako-Owusu. Phebe is a licensed therapist, business owner, and a South Sound 40 under 40 recipient. As a first-generation African immigrant, she admits her unique experience in America was initially shocking. The plan coming here was simple: go to college, become a doctor. She did not account for the culture shock, the racism or the classism she would endure throughout college and beyond.
“It was an eye-opening experience for me. I had to really do the work to understand the systemic racism here and my own biases toward the Black community. It was actually my professor who held a mirror to me and said, ‘Phebe, in America, you’re just Black. If you get pulled over by a cop, you’ll be treated like any other Black person.’”
It took time to examine and name the struggles of being an immigrant in a marginalized community. But the internal work she started led her to therapy.
“Therapy was a huge shift for me. I was completely on my own when I first immigrated here and there was constant fear of deportation. I couldn’t have done the work I needed to by myself.”
Now, Brako-Owusu has her own practice in Tacoma helping the BIPOC community, especially women, get needed mental health services. She loves encouraging women to find their place in society, claim what is theirs and learn to be wholly themselves.
She especially appreciates working with immigrants because they remind her of her Ghanian roots, her journey, and her family.
Phebe says that even after ten years of living in Tacoma she can’t find a reason to leave.
“Tacoma aroma grows on you. It doesn’t smell funky anymore, it smells like home.”
Check out Phebe’s services and podcast :
ERIN GUINUP – Founder & Director of Tacoma Refugee Choir
South Sound Magazine named her one of five Women to Watch. As Tacoma Refugee Choir’s Executive and Artistic Director, Erin Guinup connects communities to the healing power embedded in the sound of music.
Though a vocal artist, coach and trained Opera singer, Erin did not picture a career in performing and coaching for herself.
“My objective had always been to have a big family and do some teaching on the side. But God had other plans for me.”
Everything shifted five years ago while sitting in church. The program that day was about the realities of the refugee crisis and included a choir of refugees singing.
“I knew I needed to do something to help. I was so deeply moved by them and thought of how healing singing is and how music is an international language that can unite communities.”
Without much expectation, she started a pilot project of the Tacoma Refugee Choir in collaboration with Tacoma Community House, a group of 22 refugees and community members.
Since then, the choir has welcomed over 600 participants from 52 nations and performed for over 25,000 people. Their Census video has over 100,000 views and they’ve performed at events including WE Day, Race & Pedagogy National Conference and the Families Belong Together Rally.
But performing is not what the choir is about. Erin believes the choir’s true magic is in its ability to turn complete strangers into family. They simply use music to bridge barriers so they can create a place of understanding and love.
“When people truly feel loved they are able to return love. They are able to give back. I’m proud of the projects we do, but I’m mostly proud of helping people feel safe, accepted, loved and a sense of belonging.”
Learn more about Tacoma Refugee Choir:
Stay tuned for part two featuring more changemakers and rule-breakers. Keep uplifting, supporting and celebrating the empowerment of women everywhere!