The Olympia YWCA’s 2021 Womxn of Achievement awards honor three women working for racial justice. The awards ceremony and celebration, happening online Feb. 19, will also spotlight a national leader in the fight for racial equality: activist/author Patrisse Cullors, a founder of the Black Lives Matter movement, which has been nominated for a 2021 Nobel Peace Prize.
The local women being honored are activist and community organizer Talauna Reed, Earth-Feather Sovereign of Missing & Murdered Indigenous Women in Washington and Tanikka Watford Williams, executive director of The Moore Wright Group.
The ceremony had been scheduled for Nov. 6 but was postponed because so much was going on politically and socially in the days following the election, said Marisa Caughlan, the YWCA’s racial justice events specialist. “This is a better time for everyone,” she said. “It is great that it coincides with Black History Month, because the YWCA does center women of color. We’re really excited to honor these amazing people.”
Reed is the force behind Justice for Yvonne and an organizer of both Olympia Showing Up for Racial Justice and Black Leaders in Action & Solidarity in Thurston County. She is the niece of Yvonne McDonald, who died in Olympia in 2018, and has been working to get McDonald’s autopsy report and calling for further investigation into the death. “Talauna is a beautiful embodiment of all of YWCA’s values and vision,” the YWCA said in a statement on its website. “Her life is dedicated to making the world a place where all people are valued and free from oppression.”
Sovereign is the founder and director of Missing & Murdered Indigenous Women in Washington, which brings awareness to the plight of the many missing indigenous people in the state and provides advocacy and support. “This is such an important issue that gets no attention,” the YWCA said in a press release. “Indigenous people are at the bottom of our country’s totem pole,” Sovereign said in a statement. “When our indigenous people rise and heal, our nation will rise and heal.”
Watford Williams leads The Moore Wright Group, a nonprofit that distributes goods to people in need, including survivors of domestic violence, children in foster care and students in need of school supplies, and provides job training and nutrition education. During the pandemic, the organization has switched its focus to delivering household goods, cleaning products and even toys to families in need. “We are in a society where people are hurting,” she said in a statement, “and COVID-19 has made that even more so.”
Cullors of Los Angeles, who was named one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People of 2020, has twice appeared on the magazine’s cover with BLM co-founders Alicia Garza and Opal Tometti. Cullors coined the phrase Black Lives Matter in 2013, creating a Twitter hashtag of the phrase for a post about the death of Trayvon Martin. “We created a container for Black protest to be seen and taken seriously, and then just like dandelions, folks bloomed out of that,” Cullors told the magazine in October. “We can’t take full responsibility for 3,000 protests around the globe. That’s people listening and responding.”
Members of the Olympia YWCA staff and board have read Cullors’ 2016 bestseller, “When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir,” and Cullors will answer questions about the book and the movement at the event. She will also participate in a moderated conversation with the honorees. “In all of our events, we try to include an opportunity to help people grow in their understanding around race equity,” said Hillary Detamore, YWCA Olympia’s chief executive officer. “We try to bring in a guest speaker who can not only inspire our community but also can speak about how we can move forward a race-equity agenda in our community.”
The YWCA’s mission is to eliminate racism and sexism, according to the organization’s website. “While the organization is specifically focused on
racial justice, all of the activities are aligned with an intersectional focus that places the leadership and wisdom of womxn of color at the center.” The YWCA uses the term “womxn” to include a broader range of gender identities, Caughlan said.
In most years, the Womxn of Achievement Celebration is a gala including a silent auction. This year’s online event, which will raise funds for the YWCA’s mission, will include an opportunity to donate to the honorees’ causes. In lieu of an auction, the YWCA is selling raffle tickets to win free desserts for a year, made by the staff and board, and asking those who attend to support businesses owned by people of color; there’s a list on the organization’s website.
This will be the 26th year for the Womxn of Achievement awards, which this year are focused directly on people working with racial justice. “The YWCA has been doing this event for a very, very long time,” Detamore said. “It’s a celebration and honoring and an opportunity for us to learn together as a community.”
YWCA Olympia Womxn of Achievement Celebration
6:30-8:30 p.m. Feb. 19