March is Women’s History month, but women are making history year-round through education, policy, art, and bearing witness to society. Here is the first in a two-part round up of local women of color leading the way to an equitable future, empowering each other and their communities in the fight for social justice.


Seattle native Naomi Ishisaka is a creative force with a diverse body of work in photography, writing, and design. Ishisaka is The Seattle Times’ assistant managing editor for diversity, inclusion, and staff development. 

Ishisaka has a strong eye for capturing the world in motion, as evidenced in her image of non-binary Portland dancer Button Will in the City Arts piece Whip Your Hair. Her documentary photography of the Seattle Black Lives Matter movement is featured in several galleries as well as in Ava DuVernay’s documentary film 13th

In an August 2020 article from The Seattle Times, Ishisaka shines light on the identity-based abuse faced by women, particularly women of color, who go into journalism. “Online blowback is par for the course when writing a column on race and social justice for a general audience,” she wrote, citing a survey of women and gender non-conforming journalists by the Committee to Protect Journalists in which 90% of U.S. respondents reported online harassment was the biggest threat they faced. 

Ishisaka recently won first place in the Best in the West competition for Special Topics Column Writing for her work in The Seattle Times

Ishisaka’s column on race, culture, equity, and social justice appears weekly on Mondays in The Seattle Times


Pramila Jayapal is the first South Asian American woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives and is one of only a handful of naturalized citizens currently serving in U.S. Congress. Jayapal is committed to safe, healthy, equitable communities where every resident has economic opportunity, and is a proven leader in crafting and supporting legislation for the rights of women, the LGBTQ+ community, and for expanded immigration with humane policies. 

In the face of legislation denying women the right to choose, Jayapal spoke out in 2019 about her own experience with the decision to undergo an abortion procedure, only the second member of Congress to do so. Her willingness to lend her personal experience to her legislation continued in 2019 when, after her child identified as gender non-conforming, Jayapal implored Congress to enact protections for LGBTQ people through the Equality Act, which passed the House on February 24 of this year. 

In an interview with Buzzfeed News after The New York Times published her op-ed regarding abortion, Jayapal commented on the reasoning behind bringing her personal experiences to the public. “Stories are powerful and it’s novel to have lawmakers who are willing to tell them. But sometimes, with courage, that’s how it starts, and it opens the door for others, if they want to tell theirs, to do so.”


Natasha Marin is a Seattle-based creative powerhouse. An author, viral conceptual artist, and community arts organizer, Marin is perhaps best known for launching her project Reparations, a website that allowed people with privilege to leverage their resources toward people of color. The project launched in 2016 and garnered attention from over a quarter of a million people around the world.

Marin is also the creator of Black Imagination, a multimedia exhibit that explores “the full range of humanity that is Blackness,” as described in a February 3 article in Crosscut.

In the same article, Marin paints a picture of her process of exploration with participating artists, with prompts such as: What is your origin story? How do you heal yourself? What is your relationship to Africa – real or imagined? What does is it sound like when you claim yourself?

Marin most recently curated Sites of Power. The online “exhibition-slash-experience,” as headlined on the project’s site, launched last month and is the fifth installment in the Black Imagination series. In a message created in community by Sites of Power contributors, “We feel powerful when we are held and uplifted by our community. Because of each other, we feel powerful enough to be our truest selves and demand the respect that we are too often denied by a white supremacist, cis-heteronormative patriarchal society. When we feel safe, we feel powerful.”

In 2018, Marin was listed as one of 30 women who “Run This City” by the Seattle Met


President and CEO of the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle, Michelle Y. Merriweather has two decades of experience in public relations with, among other specialties, a focus on multicultural outreach. She is a strong force of leadership in advocacy for Seattle’s Black communities, including improved education, health, workforce development, and housing. 

Merriweather started her professional life in sales and marketing in Los Angeles and met with success due to her complex understanding of consumer relations, business to business relations, fundraising, and marketing. Merriweather also possessed a deep skill for grassroots marketing, an understanding of ethnic market outreach, and a dedication to community service. Her passion for combining her skills and experience in sales and marketing with a desire to serve her community inspired her to volunteer for the Los Angeles Urban League, a role that led her to become the first woman president of the Los Angeles Urban League Young Professionals. 

Merriweather joined the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle in 2015 as Vice President. In February 2018, she became the organization’s President. Her mantra in her role as President is a quote from civil rights leader Whitney M. Young: “I am not anxious to be the loudest voice or the most popular, but I would like to think that at a crucial moment, I was an effective voice for the voiceless, and effective hope for the hopeless.”


“As a leader the first step to overcoming uncertainty is admitting that you have those same uncertainties and fears that everyone else has, “ said Everett Community College president Dr. Daria Willis in an interview with TEDxSeattleWomen. That perspective was put to the test when the educational institution faced challenges never seen before due to the COVID-19 crisis. Willis rose to the occasion, taking steps like offering WiFi hotspots in the school parking lot and Chromebooks to students with children, making sure every student had access to needed educational resources. 

While Willis is the 17th president of the institution, she is the first African American and fourth woman to take on the role. Her former role as Provost and Senior Vice President of Academic Affairs at Onondaga Community College in Syracuse, New York, was focused on implementing programs designed to include underserved and underrepresented populations in higher education. That level of leadership, with a focus on access and equity, is now serving students and faculty at Everett Community College. Alongside her recognition, her experience, and her creative leadership, she attests that it took the support and belief of colleagues to reach her current position.

“In our community we need people who are willing to give the same levels of opportunities to other people,” says Willis. “To help them with professional development and to believe in them.”


Do you know an individual or company actively working to advance equity in King County or Snohomish County? If so, nominate them for the inaugural 2021 Bertha Pitts Campbell Equity Awards!

Help us celebrate the people working every day to make racial and gender justice a reality. We're looking for nominations in three categories: Individual Champion, Rising Champion, and Business Champion.

Learn more about the awards and nominate a champion today.

Annalee Schafranek

Annalee Schafranek is the Marketing & Editorial Director at YWCA. She contributes agency news, press releases, and media coverage to the website. Annalee’s educational and professional experience has always focused on the place where gender equity and media meet.


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Fri, 03/19/2021 - 12:00
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