Most Influential, Equity: Travonna Thompson-Wiley
Difficult childhood shapes activist's social justice focus
By Chris S. Nishiwaki March 1, 2023
Travonna Thompson-Wiley is one of Seattle’s 25 most influential people reshaping our region. #mostinfluential
Family matters. It certainly does to Seattle activist Travonna Thompson-Wiley. She is the oldest of six on her mother’s side and one of 10 children on her father’s. Yet, she insists her family is much larger.
“I don’t define family as blood relatives,” an introspective Thompson-Wiley says. “I have family members from activism.”
Thompson-Wiley has mobilized her “family” against institutions such as Seattle City Hall, the Seattle Police Department and Amazon. Former King County Council member Larry Gossett, her mother’s godfather, is part of her extended family and instilled a passion for activism. Nikkita Oliver, a former candidate for Seattle mayor and city council, is also part of her family.
Thompson-Wiley, Oliver and their colleagues at Creative Justice led the local “Defund the Police” movement. When Amazon wanted to build a warehouse in the former Eagle Hardware store on Rainier Avenue, Thompson-Wiley mobilized her “family” against the plan. Amazon changed course, claiming the warehouse was no longer needed due to reduced online sales as shoppers returned to brick-and-mortar stores easing out of the pandemic.
“I am tired of asking for the little things,” she says. “I think sometimes we need to have a more direct approach. I am not about to tiptoe around the issues. I want to advocate for everything the community needs.”
That, undoubtedly, dates to her childhood. At times, Thompson-Wiley was a child without a family, growing up in foster care from ages 11 to 15. But the wily Thompson-Wiley found ways to survive and eventually thrive.
She graduated from Rainier Beach High School and Clark Atlanta University, the same college that produced activists Ralph Abernathy, Jenaye Ingram (former executive director of Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network), James Weldon Johnson (songwriter for the Black National Anthem “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing”), and activist/filmmaker Spike Lee.
“I grew up in a lot of chaos,” Thompson-Wiley says. “I wouldn’t say it’s inner strength but I tap into what needs to be done. It’s a Black woman thing. If no one else is going to do it, I am going to get it done. I’ve always had to tap into that energy.”