Personal Stories: Women of Color Who Have Inspired Us and Shaped Our Lives

This month, YWCA’s 10th annual Stand Against Racism is focused on “Women of Color Leading Change.” Women of color spearhead movements, demand social justice and equity, and drive progress. Women of color have been leading change since the very beginning! We all know women of color leaders or figures in our lives who we admire, who have inspired us, and who left an important mark on us. To honor some of these women who have shaped our lives, we asked some of our YWCA USA staff to share with us:

Samantha Davis, Field Engagement Manager: I will always be indebted to my nana, Dorothy A. Taylor, for fostering an environment in which I was always able to be my authentic self. Despite society’s constant negative narrative of black people, erasure of our work and co-op of our culture, with her consistent affirmation and that of my families, I grew up unapologetic and confident in my blackness and in my womanhood. Through her life, I have strived to embody her love for family and community; her willingness to give even when she didn’t have; to speak out when harm is done and to take the time to be still and care for self when it’s all too much.

Casey Harden, Interim CEO: I celebrate the leadership of my friend, mentor, and former colleague, Tina Nixon, yesterday, today and tomorrow. As senior vice president of mission effectiveness and chief diversity officer for Harrisburg-based Pinnacle Health System, and as a loving and fierce friend, mother, wife, daughter, sister, and more – Tina’s footprints as a leader touch so many communities, and so many lives. I admire her commitment to justice, comfort with direct dialogue and honesty, wicked sense of humor, seriousness and levity, vision and pragmatism, and her steady compassion. The first time my son and daughter met “Ms. Tina” and spent time with her was a day each will never forget, she made such an impression. Leaders do that – they shine so bright and touch the lives of so many – as Tina did, does and will.

Jessica Pinckney, Government Relations Manager:  My grandmother, Rose Pinckney, has always been an inspiration in my life. Even while raising four men of color in a trying time in our history she was a fearless woman who was seriously involved in the civil rights movement in New York and marched on Washington in 1963. While she passed away when I was only two years old, I often channel her power and energy in my social justice activities and am incredibly grateful for the morals she instilled in my father and uncles to respect and lift up women in their daily lives.

Tycely Williams, Vice President, Development: Nearly fifteen years ago, I moved to Washington, D.C. with a burning passion to help people. While philanthropy seems simple and easy to achieve it isn’t it. Without a professional sponsor, I would not have fully realized my potential and affected positive change for others. By a chance encounter, I was introduced to Angie L. Reese-Hawkins, the first female African-American and woman of color to serve as the Chief Executive Officer of the YMCA of Metropolitan Washington. What I most admire about Angie is her consistent and relentless commitment to people and their passions. While leading an organization with an annual operating budget of more than $50 million dollars, she possesses a genuine ability to create and preserve meaningful relationships. Angie inspires me to step outside of self and to understand the passions of others by opening my ears and closing my mouth. She has taught me the importance of servant leadership and through her actions and wise counsel, I better understand how to be a values-driven leader who learns from, listens to and loves people.

Danielle Marse-Kapr, Communications and Marketing Director: When Bree Newsome climbed the flagpole at the South Carolina state capitol and removed the confederate flag that was displayed there. This was such a bold, visible, and symbolic act. Her action really stuck with me and has reminded me that change and activism come in many different shapes and forms – AND that you may need to break the rules to make progress.

Martha Breunig, Director, Resources and Metrics: Women of color leading change has been a constant presence and inspiration for me over the course of my career and life, and I am very grateful for that. The importance of many women of color leaders and their contributions, particularly of Marian Wright Edelman, Johnnetta Cole and Dorothy Height, took root starting in 1975 as I started my work in the areas of women’s and girls’ empowerment. Today, these three women and their leadership continue to inspire me, motivate me, and serve as a touchstone.

Rita Ryder, Director, Member Services: May Anne Eng is a construction manager and leader on the Board of YWCA Seattle|King|Snohomish. She is a tremendous leader, and has not only served in every position on the Board, including Board Chair, but continues to provide leadership to the association’s Inspire Luncheon Committee. Mary Anne has served as a volunteer construction manager and owners representative on several YWCA construction projects, and I can distinctly remember working with her one time as we “value-engineered” our way through a budget problem for a construction project – Mary Anne is always thoughtful, creative, and a joy to work with. She is incredibly generous with her time and talent, and is always tremendously upbeat and supportive. I admire her and celebrate her leadership.

Shelly Schnupp, Director of Training: LG Shanklin Flowers has been a friend, colleague and teacher to me since moving to Milwaukee in 1991. Her classes on anti-racism and other forms of oppression have been essential to my growth as a person and ally. I so appreciate her clear thinking, insightful speaking, hopeful spirit and fantastic sense of humor. I’ve been fortunate to work with her as a colleague and hang out as a friend. In Milwaukee, (and throughout the world), many roads lead to LG and I am glad I walk one of those.

Aneitra McMillian, Senior Finance Associate: I am inspired by Oprah Winfrey. It is so refreshing to see someone use their natural-born talents to the fullest extent and to use their successes to reach and teach people, and to help others and make a difference in their lives. It is important for all of us to pay it forward and help lift up other people, not just focus on our own gains. Oprah uses her voice and her media influence for the greater good of ALL people, and especially to empower women.

Cindy Hoffman, Vice President, Communications and Marketing: I met Niki Mitchell when I worked at a progressive PR firm in Washington, D.C. a few decades ago. She had worked as a journalist and a reporter for the MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour, which won the Prestigious Peabody Award during her time there. Niki was bigger than life! She filled the room with her energy, wit and great vibes. She was a true mentor at work and in life. She was always willing to step out of her comfort zone: whether it was working at a PR firm on environmental issues, adopting a daughter, launching her own media relations firm, or authoring a book. At one point, she and her family moved back to her home state, to care for her aging father.  She was always there for everyone and I believe we all thought she was our best friend! She had that gift. Tragically, she died suddenly, leaving her wonderful husband and young daughter behind. She was always very active on Facebook, sharing thought-provoking issues on racism, feminism, empowerment, politics (she would be having a field day these days!) and, of course, sharing funny memes. She always engaged us all in thought-provoking banter. Her Facebook feed is still active today, with friends and family sharing their thoughts and funny stories and stories she would have loved. It’s a testament to how impactful Niki was, and how we all miss her. She left a wonderful mark on me and everyone she knew.


Join us as April 27-30 for Stand Against Racism, as we celebrate and honor women of color leaders and talk about the barriers that create racial and gender disparities to leadership. Together, let’s highlight and lift up stories of determined, fierce women of color leaders and trailblazers in our communities and throughout history!

Visit http://standagainstracism.org/ to learn more. There, you can look up to see if there are any events near you, register to host your own event or gathering, sign the pledge to stand against racism, and more!