Most Influential, Equity: T’wina Nobles
Community leader and lawmaker seeks to grow generational wealth in the African American community
By Chris S. Nishiwaki March 11, 2023
T’wina Nobles is one of Seattle’s 25 most influential people reshaping our region. #mostinfluential
Growing up in and out of foster care and homelessness with a drug-addicted mother, T’wina Nobles became familiar with social services and community needs. Now, 41, the wife, mother of four, state senator and leader of two influential organizations — the Urban League of Tacoma and the Black Future Co-op Fund — is working for social justice.
A Democrat, she became only the second Black woman to be elected to the state Senate with an improbable victory over incumbent Steve O’Ban in 2020 in a district that had voted for Republican senators since the 1960s. Retired Democratic State Sen. Rosa Franklin, now 95, was the first.
The Black Future Co-op Fund promotes Black philanthropy for the Black community. The organization is led by four “architects,” all Black women executives: Byrd Barr Place CEO Andrea Caupain Sanderson; Angela Jones, director of the Washington State Initiative for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; Michelle Merriweather, president and CEO of the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle; and Nobles.
There’s no application process. Instead, the four “architects” seek organizations that fulfill the Fund’s mission. The Fund has already distributed more than $2.75 million to organizations in Washington state since 2020, including $1.05 million last March to 21 Black women-led organizations.
“It’s not a situation where you have to apply for funds and be competitive,” says Vivian Phillips, a civic leader and strategic advisor for Pyramid Communications, who consults for the Fund. “You don’t have to compete. They take it upon themselves to identify where the needs are. T’wina (is very) tapped in to the community and knows what those needs are.”
The fund has grown to more than $12 million with ambitions to grow further. It is currently housed under the Seattle Foundation, with a goal of creating an independent nonprofit.
According to the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, only 1% of all community foundation funding is dedicated to Black communities. Conversely, Black families give the highest percentage of their wealth, more than any other ethnic group in the United States, outpacing white families by a factor of four as recently as 2016 (8% vs. 2%).
“What we do know about our community is that it is more philanthropic per capita,” Phillips says. “In other words, we do more with less. Those are the factors that make us resilient. We are putting our hands out to give more. That is the brilliance and the importance of the Black Futures Co-op Fund.”