Kiantha Duncan's skill is to walk hand-in-hand with people
At a recent march by the Red Wagon in Riverfront Park protesting George Floyd's murder, the crowd chanted "Black Lives Matter." After each chant, Kiantha Duncan heard a small voice saying, "White Lives Matter."
It was a white woman standing on the sidewalk.
Rather than being upset with her, Kiantha went to talk with her. She introduced herself and asked, "Why she was saying white lives matter when the crowd says black lives matter?"
"I know white lives matter. We are not saying they don't matter when we say black lives matter. We are just saying black lives matter, too," said Kiantha, inviting the woman to join her for the rally and march.
The woman listened to the messages. By the end of the march, she was chanting, "Black Lives Matter."
That shows the leadership style Kiantha brings as president of NAACP Spokane.
It's an example of her understanding that many people, including herself, have common ground in traumas from childhood—adverse childhood experiences, known as ACES.
Those experiences include physical, emotional and sexual abuse and neglect, and family based domestic violence, incarceration, substance abuse, mental illness and divorce/separation, she said.
Kiantha loves and listens to people to help them move beyond their differences in rank, race, religion or roots. She gathers people in hospitality around her dining room table, people of different cultures, perspectives, backgrounds, sexual orientations, and "situations of being housed or unhoused."
People who come don't know who they may encounter to share stories, ideas, lives and love, and to build empathy and community.
Kiantha invites people to release and recycle those traumas by letting go, letting love guide them and leading others to healing.
While the NAACP Spokane works for justice, equality and equitable life, she said she is less a fighter-advocate, and more someone who loves people into the understanding, healing and change that overcomes hate, fear, misunderstanding and difference.
"My skill set and gifts are different from speaking at protests," she said. "It is to bring people together to build stronger collective action. It is to walk hand-in-hand with people, to use kindness to move people into the equity journey to live in a world that is more equitable for—has space for—people of color," she said. "I don't want to fight. I want to love you to pieces and talk you into justice, equality and equity.
"Children do not learn through harsh punishment. That just scares them. We don't want to scare people into an equitable world. We want people to understand why it's the healthiest way to be," she said.
"Kiantha is about love," she said. "I love humanity because God created people."
Kiantha came from personal trauma, raised partly by her grandmother. Sexual abuse began at age three. At seven after her mother was beaten, she went to live with her father, who was incarcerated half her first 10 years. At nine, she was in and out of foster care. At 16, she was a teen mom. Her son turned her life around from the trauma and poverty in which she grew up in the segregated North Side of Milwaukee, Wis.
There everyone around her was black—family, friends and neighbors—but teachers, police and people in power were white.
Kiantha's approach also relates to her growing up in a large black church, Ephesian Missionary Baptist Church, founded by her uncle. There she attended Sunday School, vacation Bible school, youth choir and choir, learned beliefs about God and developed her character.
Later attending a Church of God in Christ, she learned "how God is and moves and expects us to be."
"I learned there is not one religion, but are many answers and paths to the same thing. I do not talk about God much. I want people to see God in how I behave, act, care and build bridges," she said.
With Fellowship of Affirming Ministries in Seattle, she helped found Liberation, an affirming church that is now part of the United Church of Christ.
"Love of God is deeper than anything we can quantify or qualify, larger than a denomination, church building or Sunday service. We need to learn about faith by hearing each other's faith narratives," she said.
From this background, she is sensitive to trauma others experience, leading her to work with, manage programs for and advocate on behalf of youth, men, women, prisoners, homeless and foster care children.
"I have deep empathy. I know trauma," she said.
Kiantha began to study international business at Alverno College in Milwaukee, but left in the 1990s to start a business, Transformations Unlimited, consulting with government entities in Wisconsin to help people to move from welfare into the work force.
She continued to do that when she moved near Phoenix to help her aunt and uncle. There Kiantha was looking to relocate, chose Seattle, moved in 2003 and began freelance consulting with nonprofits.
"If I have a computer and a place, I have work," she said.
In Seattle, Kiantha also worked with the Tacoma YWCA's juvenile justice program, Seattle Black Pride for LGBTQ blacks, a Salvation Army community program, Seattle YWCA's dress for success program, Compassion Alliance and a New Horizon project to build a youth shelter.
From 2004 to 2008, she did studies in transformational leadership at Antioch University.
"My lifelong learning led to my nonprofit leadership," she said.
Knowing Sylvia Brown most of her years in Seattle, Kiantha moved with her to Spokane in 2015 when Sylvia's employer wanted a Spokane office. They married after moving.
Kiantha continues consulting with people on personal and professional development. She also worked a year with Empire Health.
"Philanthropy is my first love. My two grandsons are my second love. My third love is talking with people," said Kiantha, who gives lectures and leads workshops.
"My goal is to help as many people as possible and support community with my philanthropy," said Kiantha.
Consulting with Black Futures, a cooperative fund supporting black communities in Washington's 39 counties, she helps them increase black mental and physical health, improve black wealth, preserve black culture and address equity in health care. She also consults with Better Health Together on equity.
She finds there is much work to be done on race in Spokane, but finds it is a place open to possibilities.
About three years ago, she heard Kurtis Robinson, then NAACP Spokane president, speak at the Black Student Union at Gonzaga University. He invited her to help the chapter. Kiantha became a member at large and then a vice president.
The 101-year-old chapter has many historic supporters and allies, Kiantha said. Under Kurtis, it grew from 100 to 500 members, developed new energy and leadership.
As president, Kiantha said, NAACP Spokane follows tenets of the national organization, building collaboration to create political, educational, social and economic equality/rights, to eliminate race-based discrimination and to ensure the health and wellbeing of all persons," she said.
"The NAACP fights for justice, equality and what is right," Kiantha said. "With people committed to that, we walk with people who seem to have nothing in common with the NAACP, to help them understand that the organization is about equality, because without equality for all none of us will have a good life.
"Seeing issues as puzzles, I lead others to look at how to put the pieces together and where there are gaps," she explained. "We will do creative things to build the organization's capacity."
For information, call 206-225-4736, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit naacpspokane.org.
Copyright@ The Fig Tree,January, 2021