New Voice in the State Senate: T'wina Nobles ’06, M.A.T.'07

Until 2020, T’wina Nobles had no intention of running for the state Senate. She was doing work she loved as president and CEO of the Tacoma Urban League, and had just been re-elected to the University Place School Board. Community members and legislators had occasionally suggested she run for state office, and she would say, “Nope. It’s not my time.” 

When she finally decided it was her time, Nobles ’06, M.A.T.’07 declared her candidacy for state Senate for the 28th District. That was mid-March of 2020—and a few days later, Washington Governor Jay Inslee declared a stay-at-home order for the state in response to the coronavirus. Soon the pandemic upended everything, including Nobles’ campaign plans. But she was undeterred. She has been facing down obstacles her whole life. 

T'wina Nobles ’06, M.A.T.'07
T'wina Nobles ’06, M.A.T.'07

Growing up with a mother who struggled with addictions, Nobles and her two younger brothers moved around to Georgia, Alabama, and California, experiencing homelessness, living in shelters, and spending time in the foster care system. At school, however, teachers and coaches fostered her intelligence and her determination to not be defined by her circumstances. Nobles made it a point to say “yes” to any camp, volunteering experience, or chance to be with women who wanted to mentor and help her. “When I got older, I knew I wanted to provide those same kinds of opportunities for other people,” she says. 

Her mentors and role models were college educated, reinforcing her goal of going to college. A mother at 17, married at 19, she came to the Northwest when her husband was deployed to what was then Fort Lewis. She enrolled at Tacoma Community College, and—while raising four children—went on to earn two degrees from Puget Sound. 

Fulfilling the goal inspired by her mentors, she began her career by teaching at Stadium High School and Lincoln High School in Tacoma. Over the past two decades she also has served as a PTA leader, founder of the girls’ empowerment program Ladies First, school board director, leader of the Tacoma Urban League, and member of Puget Sound’s national alumni executive committee. 

Nobles’ decision to run for state Senate was, in part, aimed at making sure people of color are represented in government—and a way to encourage more Black people to run for offce. Ironically, until she decided to run, she didn’t know that there weren’t any Black senators, and that the only other Black female senator before her (another Logger, Rosa Gourdine Franklin ’68), had retired 10 years earlier. 

During her campaign she had to confront what she calls the “structural racism” in politics: people who questioned her capabilities and qualifications, negative ads, racist attacks. None of that discouraged her. Nobles received 50.6% of the vote, just enough to oust eight-year incumbent Steve O’Ban. 

Serving in the Senate will let her advocate for issues and communities she cares about, and be available to the residents of the district she represents. But she sees her role as more than that. “This opportunity, in this moment—as it is oftentimes when Black people are in these positions—it’s way bigger than I am,” she says. “I hope to be completely responsible and to take care of this opportunity to lead, to open the doors for someone else.”

 

By Dori Cahn
Photo by Sy Bean
Published Feb. 7, 2021