Excitement poured out from the group of teenage girls as they each took turns holding different animals at the Tacoma Urban League office during a visit from Point Defiance Zoo. Bursts of nervous laughter fill the room as they each get ready to touch the soft, gray shelled crabs.
Standing beside them, their mentor, T’wina Nobles, joins in the awe and curiosity of it all.
“There’s so much in life that I don’t know that these experiences are mind-blowing to me,” says T’wina. “I’m not just teaching girls, I’m out there learning myself.”
The girls are members of Sisterhood in the City, an empowerment academy that launched in 2017 in Pierce County. With an unwavering belief in the power, strength, and intelligence of every girl, the academy is only one of the many streams in which T’wina serves her community.
In 2012, she founded Ladies First, an in-school program dedicated to empowering middle and high school girls to make healthy decisions and build confidence and cultural awareness in their everyday lives. The program received the 2014 Golden Acorn Award from Tacoma PTSA Council in recognition for its service in the community and became the catalyst to what is now Sisterhood in the City.
“When I was a child, and we lived in [homeless] shelters, I volunteered in the shelters,” T’wina says. “I knew I wanted to help people and take on a leadership role even when we were in situations where my family was being helped.”
Although she currently holds the title of President and CEO of the Tacoma Urban League, T’wina is no stranger to leadership.
Since moving to Tacoma in 2002, she has proven to be a force for positive change. She is the University Place School District Board Director, she was Victoria Woodard’s City Council campaign manager, received the 2014 City Club Dennis G. Seinfeld Emerging Leader Award and Tacoma Public Schools 2014 WASA Community Leadership Award.
“I believe in the programs that are offered by the community because I’ve seen them help my family. I know that what I’m doing is helping girls. I know what I do at my job is making an impact,” T’wina says.
T’wina’s drive for community has only amplified as she leads the 50 year legacy of the Tacoma Urban League. Along with continuing to provide resources, such as, financial and career coaching, parenting support and the Male Involvement Program, her vision for the organization takes, what she calls, “an old school approach to bringing back the village.”
“We’re doing more of just meeting in each other’s homes and raising our kids together, while also providing some structure so folks can see other people in the room and hear each other’s concerns,” T’wina says.
Earlier this year, the Urban League hosted its first Families of Color Brunch, which reflected the authentic communal experience T’wina envisions. The brunch took place inside the home of Lawrence Garrett, a non-profit executive whose daughter is a University Place School District student.
“If I want people to know who I am, they need to be where I am most of the time, which is in my home. The idea was to create that level of comfort and proximity,” Lawrence says. “It was about bringing families of color together to network, to fellowship, to get our kids to know each other and create a safe space where advocacy and agency can be built.”
Fostering relationships and partnerships rank high on T’wina’s list of values. It is with the help of two volunteer auxiliaries and a close-knit network of community members and organizations that the Tacoma Urban League is able to provide a safe space and feeling of family in everything they do.
“Partnerships really allow us to accomplish our mission of supporting and strengthening the community. That is how we’re able to increase the collective impact of Graduate Tacoma,” T’wina says. “When we say Urban League, it means that we’re making a difference, that we’re walking the walk.”
As T’wina continues to advance community through her leadership, others have offered their support to elevate her vision and investment in local youth. With the help of anonymous donors, the T’wina Nobles Young Professionals Scholarship launched in early August. Four $5,000 scholarships will be awarded to students at Tacoma Community College and Clover Park Technical College during the 2019-2020 school year. Scholarship recipients will be announced during the Tacoma Urban League’s Empowerment Gala in October.
“I get to do some incredible things because of sitting in a seat at the Urban League,” T’wina says. “As I get these experiences and make these connections, it’s only right that I pass them on and show people that this is a possibility for them too – that I’m preparing the next person to sit in this chair.”
Both schools are matching donor contributions to the scholarship, with T’wina already planning to expand the grant to all of Tacoma’s higher education institutions.
“The thing that I appreciate about T’wina the most is that she’s not afraid to give power. She’s not afraid to step into power,” Lawrence says. “When we create a new standard of what it means to navigate space and hold space for one another, that’s when we’re winning.”
Whether CEO, mentor, mother, wife, or educator, T’wina embodies what it means to be community-minded and what it looks like to have a friend rooting for your success while simultaneously climbing the ladder towards their own growth.
“She gives herself genuinely. You can have all those different titles, but she’s always T’wina,” says Monique DuBose.
Monique’s 14-year-old daughter, Moneé, has been a member of Sisterhood in the City for the last two years.
“The bond that T’wina has with the girls is so amazing. She provides them with an environment to just be,” Monique says. “She respects herself, so in turn, she respects everyone. She’s just that woman.”
Regardless of what her title may be at any given time, T’wina’s commitment to her community extends beyond her professional accomplishments.
“What I give to my community fills me up and reminds me why this is all so important,” says T’wina. “I won’t be here forever, so I want to make sure that there is a strong legacy once I leave and a great handoff to the next generation of leaders.”