Toyia T. Taylor is the Founder and Executive Director of We.APP and is a highly sought-after educator and motivational speaker, who has used her voice to inspire audiences nationally and internationally. Toyia has dedicated her life to community service, social justice and performing arts. Her awards have included the Wonder of Women (WOW) Award, the National Council of Negro Women Incorporated, Style and Substance Award, and the Education for Social Justice Award from Girls for Gender Equity, Incorporated. Her original poems, Brooklyn Love and Blue Note Room, have had classical selections composed to them that were debuted at Carnegie Hall.
She addresses the question of “What Could Possibly Go Right?” with thoughts including:
- That today’s young people are creating self-authored identities, “claiming who they see themselves to be, and how they don’t want to be put into boxes.”
- That in encouraging the younger generations “to speak their truth and to speak with purpose”, we are reminded to do this in our own lives.
- That “there’s power in gathering”, allowing us to “work on the inner connection, self reflection, being vulnerable with others, in a space that is brave and healing”
- The call to show up and do the work, “even when I don’t feel like it. The hopes of what is to come are greater than the sum of me as an individual.”
- The aspirations for the E1-T1 (Each One-Teach One) Global Citizen Academy for children of all backgrounds, communities, and cultures.
Connect with Toyia Taylor
Hi, Vicki Robin here host of What Could Possibly Go Right?, a project of the Post Carbon Institute, in which we interview cultural scouts, people who see far and serve the common good, asking them all are one impertinent question. In all this seems to be going awry, what do you see on the horizon? What do you see could possibly go right? Today’s guest is Toyia Taylor, Executive Director and Founder of We.APP. Toyia has used her voice to inspire audiences nationally and internationally. This year, she was featured in City Arts Magazine and the recipient of Wonder of Women (WOW) award. In 2015, she was the recipient of the National Council of Negro Women Incorporated, Style and Substance award. She’s received the Education for Social Justice Award from Girls for Gender Equity Incorporated and has toured as a guest artist with a string octet, The Young Eight. Her original poems, Brooklyn Love and Blue Note Room have had classical selections composed to them that were debuted at Carnegie Hall. Toyia has spoken and performed for O Magazine at the Women Rule Leadership Training Conference, co-sponsored by the White House Project. She was also featured on the 35th anniversary limited edition of Interview Magazine as one of the top new artists to look out for in New York City. Dedicated to community service, social justice and the performing arts, her passion for inspiring others won her the title of Miss District of Columbia, which advanced her to the 1999-2000 Miss America Pageant. Toyia Taylor is the first woman of color to perform oratory at Miss America Pageant. Her original oratory, Wake Up, pushed the envelope by addressing the state of today’s youth, and resulted in accolades for Best Interview and Talent. Toyia earned a Master’s degree in Fine Arts in Arts Leadership from Seattle University. And now here’s my really warm conversation, not just interview, but conversation with Toyia. Enjoy.
Hi, Toyia, we just met and I was so taken by your presence beyond your mission, which in itself is so moving. I’m going to read it. We.APP exists to cultivate inclusive and creative learning spaces that allow young scholars to deconstruct the dominant narratives by using public speaking to uplift their culture, self authorized identities and communities. I love everything about that. In What Could Possibly Go Right? we ask of our cultural scouts, people who see far and serve the common good like you, to not just elaborate on their mission, but rather to let us see through their eyes and hearts about what or who could develop our own way in the world, our own mission.
What could we see more clearly? How could we use our voices? So what we’re trying to do is serve the people who are listening to this in the thousands, who are looking for a path through. Scouting is like standing on the hillside and looking at the horizon. So that’s what we’re asking of folks. We want to see what you see. We want to see what you see arising, even as so much seems to be falling apart. Some might call this hope, but it’s more like observation of the latent good in every person and every time in history. Things that are emerging. What are the opportunities for people of goodwill to engage with this world rather than shrink back from it? We all need to see what you see, the inspiration of self authored identities and communities. Good scouting helps us. So with all of that introduction, Toyia, I offer you the question that I ask everybody. In the midst of all that seems to be going awry, what could possibly go right?
Well, first of all, thank you so much, Vicki. Do you remember how we met when we were at the Whidbey Institute? Do you remember our first encounter? If I’m not mistaken, we were walking up the road, me and Randy were walking up the road from our vehicle to go into the Institute. And there was Vicki. We were walking side by side, and I remembered there was just this light about you and learning about your journey as we walked up the hill to this journey of thriving communities to celebrate, four amazing independent documentaries of beautiful work that’s been done locally, as well as on a national level. So it’s no mistake when we meet people in our path. There’s a connection, and things come full circle. So I’m just really excited that you saw something in my journey, my message, my work, my vision, my life work. So thank you, Vicki, for having me on the show.
What could possibly go right? So, as easy as it sounds, it seems to be it could potentially be such a loaded question, What could possibly go right? But the things that I ponder and go through my mind, I’ll tell you the words that that come up for what could possibly go right? Young people, children, choosing to do something different than what we as adults have just been thrown into or the old ways. They get to make these decisions about who they want to be and who they choose, just self authored identities. I see it so much in the generation of today, the millennials, and those thereafter, of really claiming who they see themselves to be, and how they don’t want to be put into boxes. It’s refreshing that they want to exist in a world that is truly liberated and free, and that they see each other. They’re not afraid to talk about gender identity, culture, celebrating languages, and beliefs, or the lack of. Just be able to exist. I’m really moved by that. I’m really inspired by it in my own life, being a Seattleite but raised in the Deep South, where there were very defined walls of who we were, or who I am as a black person, as a black woman. I’m raised by a single parent mother.
What could possibly go right is real liberation for our children and us creating a strong foundation for them to climb and exist and to jump into, fly the way that they want to. I feel like what else could go right in my own personal life, is learning to heal from trauma. I’m doing what I need to, in order to bring it to the surface, no longer put a bandaid on it and figure out what do I need to do? Who do I need in my life? What changes do I need to make to allow those wounds to properly heal? There’ll be scars, there’ll be marks and that’s okay. I know what the root of the problem was, and it is healed. And over time, it will fade. Somebody asked me the question: You work with children and you ask them to speak their truth and to speak with purpose, but how was that happening in your own personal life? And I was stuck. I didn’t really have an answer. I see so much of what I want in myself in them, that it’s easy for me to show up for them, but not myself.
So what could possibly go right is I deal with the things that have held me back from speaking my truth and speaking up and really knowing my own self authored identity. I have this vision of myself and a world that I want to live in. Part of it comes from us saying less and doing more, in terms of vocal toning. People need vocal toning, so I’ll explain in my mind what vocal toning is. The way I imagined vocal toning to be and the way that I’ve experienced it and the way I see it in my world, as a way for us to come together, is people coming out in nature. People sitting in the grass, people sitting in places and spaces that are open and free, and allowing whatever is there to come up, and it’s through our voices. So just as monks are able to use their voices to do different chants, we are sitting as humans, allowing whatever is coming up in our throat, in our heart chakras, to have voice but not necessarily through words; through, if necessary, a laugh, through wailing if it has to be a cry, through it could be song, but we are all putting our feelings out through sounds, and allowing them to connect in ways that don’t need words. Just need us to be present. I just think there’s power in that. I know that there’s power in gathering, there’s power and energy, there’s power in frequency. I just want us to stop talking so much, and sometimes get rid of the static that’s in our lives and work on the inner connection, self reflection, being vulnerable with others, in a space that is brave and healing, and allow those things just to come up and take journey, take flight, knowing that others around you are doing the same. What may start out as a wailing sound or trauma may end up as a laugh, as a warm vibration and energy that comes out. But get there either way. So those are some of the things that are could absolutely 100% possibly go right.
So I think you can anticipate my next question, which is, you’ve brought up young people, you’ve brought up healing trauma, you’ve brought up a more natural present self expression as a longing for the world you want to live in. So where are you seeing that now? Is it in the sort of Fridays for the Future Greta people? Is it in performing arts? Is it in hip hop? Where do you see young people claiming their voices in a way that isn’t just only fury, sort of stabilized fury, like the fury is just a single tone that never changes? But where do you see this? Where do you see the fluidity? I want to see what you see.
I see it, I’ve been a part of it, I just don’t see enough of it. So yes, I see in open mics, where scholars and young people or intergenerational gatherings and we’re speaking our truth right. Through our program, through We.APP Speak with Purpose. I’m seeing it in the classroom starting to blossom. The seed is planted. I just don’t see enough of it. Then I see those who that is their natural gift from the Creator, that they’re storytellers coming forth, whether it’s in public or it’s through a book or it’s through the visual arts. I see it, I just don’t see enough of it. And you can go down a rabbit hole that a lot of it is because, especially in the schools, a lack of funding, especially in marginalized communities, and schools that don’t have the resources. But you’re right. Historically, it has been through protests, it has been when young people must speak up. They’re tired of being choked. They’re tired of being silent. They are fighting for breath, that they come up, and you hear their voices. You hear it in healing circles, in places, community spaces that are doing restorative practice and healing circles. I just want more of it. I want it to be lifestyle, I want it to be the everyday norm. That’s what could go right. That, as opposed to, we’re in this routine of get up in the morning, nine to five, and the thing that’s most important to us is how to make a dollar. Why can’t it just be the opposite, of how do we heal each other? How do we connect through a hug? Or through, I love you. I see you. Yeah, I just need a shift.
I hear you. I mean, I was, and probably still am, very much like that. I realized, years ago, I had cancer, and it was a deep dive. It was like the escape hatch. Like, sorry, I have cancer, I cannot do my old life, bye. What I recognized was that I am trying energetically to uphold the world I want, in the world that is, and I feel the world that is, like a pressure on me. So I’m putting a pressure on it. I am creating this bubble, and I’m working hard to keep it at bay. But I think that is what you’re saying, that there is an inner healing. There’s these two things; I want the world to heal and I want to heal myself in an unhealed world. And I’m noticing that people who are leaders, who are activists, are being more honest about their personal need to heal. So where are you finding spaces of that kind of healing? Where do you see evidence of that? Back in the women’s movement, it was the personal is the political, but here it’s more like, the healing of self is the healing of the world. But it’s personal, and not an impersonal or transpersonal. So anyway, that’s just a little pot stirring there to see what else you might say about that, about the healing self, healing the world, and where you see that happening.
Where do I see self healing happening? I want to talk to you about my vision for Each One-Teach One Global Citizen Academy, which is a boarding school. I don’t give voice to that enough, but know that it’s part of my journey in life, is part of my blueprint. That’s one of the things that I see to be right with the world.
Give voice to that. You’re talking about wanting to give voice to the thing that’s arising. If you want to give voice to it, give voice to it.
No worries. I would say the last 10 years, it has been put on my heart now. I’ll say this. I don’t do anything that I am not moved by my ancestors, my Creator. I do great honor in the fact that people see me to be an activist and people see me to be very active in my community. But I’ll be honest and transparent and say it’s not always because I want to write, it’s because I’m moved to. I have to be obedient in that way. It’s part of my life work. I say that to say Each One-Teach One Global Citizen Academy was put on my heart to create, develop and establish. Now when will it happen? The imperfect side of me and the human side of me is like, I don’t know how to. But Each One-Teach One is going to happen. It’s Each One-Teach One Global Citizen Academy boarding school, for children of all backgrounds, from all communities, all cultures. Classism is not a thing. Racism is not a thing, because we are living together, eating together, bonding together, growing together, educating ourselves together. So it’s a space in a place, it’s a community where children are. It’s called a boarding school, because we live there together. The things that I have to work out and understand is, is it a school if children are there from the ages of being toddlers, right? So from the age of three or four? Or do we start at five? But my thing is, a lot of times the trauma is already there, even by the age of five, for so many children, depending on the environment that they’ve grown up in, or what they’ve been exposed to. So it’s on my heart, that parents are involved, family members are involved, guardians are involved. But they trust that we have created a system, a community that is organic, that is healthy, that is loving, that is project based learning, that is about exploration for children, and that we like very much like Montessori, if they go at their own pace, to explore the world that they’re in. They’re growing their own food, learning about agriculture, they’re learning at least two languages. We are bringing in teachers, educators, people who love, nurturers from around the world to build and develop these global leaders.
And that is what I bet is my life work. Each One-Teach One, to create global citizens, because for too many of my babies and children, they can’t see past their block. They can’t see past the fact they have an individual education, an individualized educational plan that says that they can only learn this, to this extent. They’ve been marginalized, because of systemic racism. They have been put in these boxes that no one deserves to be in, that is not the natural way of who we are. So my mentor said, Toyia, come with me. This was just yesterday. And we went to a church. Holgate church is a black church, African American church, in the Central District, where the pastor has over 6000 square feet of space that he wants community to utilize. My mentor was like, Toyia, can you feel the vision here? You may not know how to start, but this is a start. Start small, allow the community to understand, to hear your story, to listen. Then we build together a blueprint in which we build a home, an educational mecca for children. And so that’s a thing that I feel a possibility, a real strong possibility, of what should go right.
Right. And it’s because it’s been put on your heart by power higher than yourself. People in religious communities often say it is done. It already is, and so we’re just charged with filling in, putting our skills and our communities into something that has been put on our hearts. I think there’s something like a bridge thing between just a happy vision of a happy world, where everybody’s free and liberated, and something that has come to you and won’t leave you. I’ve said there’s several times in my life where I say, I feel like God picked me up by the scruff of the neck and placed me somewhere, and I get to use your word, I was obedient to it. I was also complex and failed, and projecting my own ego. I mean, I did the whole human thing, but so I hear that.
It reminds me actually, of the summer camp I went to in the 1950s, where my parents were quite upper middle class, but they had a conscience and they put me in a very unique interracial summer camp. I went there for three summers as a camper and two as a counsellor, because I couldn’t get enough of it. It was democratically run. So there it was in the midst of a very traditional decade. I think about summer camp, I think about this thing called the Semester at Sea, where students get on a boat, and they travel around the world for a year. They’re in a community. It’s not like there isn’t a blueprint that’s coming out of human history, that it’s like we talk about ancestors, these are some of your ancestors. So, I think that’s amazing. Do you see from your perch, a greater longing for healing in the black community than whites? Do you feel this sort of uprising of, we’re something greater than what we’ve been given? And we’re sort of not going to take it anymore? (Here comes the cat, he can’t stay away for you.) I know that’s a sort of racialized comment. But I mean, I feel some from what you’re saying that communities of color are self authorizing, self authoring now. Do you see that?
Yes, I do. I see it, it’s been well over 400 years. Many of us went to the year of return in Ghana and the year of return was in 2019. That marked 400 years since the first enslaved Africans left the coast of Ghana, and over a million people who throughout 2019, went to understand our stories, connect with the spirits there, to be intentional about what is to come. So, it was a healing for us, just reconnecting with our culture. It was really connecting the dots between the African diaspora overall and how we are all connected in so many ways. We are stronger together than we are apart. There were conversations that come from that and now we’re talking about intergenerational wealth, collective power and collective purpose, just like with the Holgate Church pastor saying, Let’s come together, I have the space, you have the programming. Let’s start to dream. And beyond dream, let’s start to put things in place.
So yeah, I do believe that. I’m seeing parents showing up in the school systems and saying, You will no longer treat my children this way. You will not have my child labelled as a behavioral problem. No, my child is unique as all children are, and that needs to be heard. We’re going to advocate for them and so are you because it’s your job. I’m hearing that more. Even parents who now, since COVID, there are a lot of parents of color who aren’t allowing their kids to go back to school. They’ve created their own homeschooling systems or are saying that our children will be a part of this system remotely, but they’re not going back into a building until we feel our children are safe. So what I do hear, Vicki, and see, is people being vocal, but also more action. More action being put in place, which is important. In my community, and I say it all the time, I say we really need to be talking about reparations, and what that looks like, and how that happens, and how that comes to fruition. Free college tuition for all students of African descent and background from this country. What do we need in order to buy homes, so we’re no longer being pushed out? What does that look like? And what do we need to be asking for, so that we can create generational wealth and keep homes in our family and leave something to our children? That’s the conversation I want to have. So that’s another thing that could possibly go right is let’s start talking about reparations, and then what needs to happen for it to actually come to fruition.
Yeah, what I’m hearing from you, my little nugget of taking away, there’s so many nuggets here, but that a vision rooted in justice, in the right relationship of all things in this world, the healed relationship of all things in this world, not everybody the same, but everybody being able to play their part. The Indigenous people say their original instructions, that holding a vision is actually one of the things that seeds rightness in this world. We can be very dismissive of visions, like, Well, that’s just a vision. But a vision is a being. It’s a being and it has a rightful place. So I wonder if you have any final words, any wrap up, anything that you occurs to you now? Because I think we’re coming to a close.
I just want to add to what else could possibly go right, as we talk about reparations, is free health care for black people, considering all we’ve been through in this country, for this country to be what it is to thrive. So that’s the other thing, a wrap up to this beautiful, beautiful conversation. I will say this, Vicki, I just want to talk with you. So let’s definitely continue to just, not even dream. It’s creating the vision board. It’s then talking about now, what do we need to establish the blueprint? And now what are the materials that build this home, in this community, in these beautiful things. So, the wrap up. I’m a work in progress. I don’t do the work of we speak with purpose, or the dream of Each One-Teach One by myself. I am learning to give voice to those things and be unapologetic about it. When we were at Whidbey Institute, that was my first time there, and I’m looking out in this beautiful space in place that has been built. I’m saying to myself, why can’t I ask someone? Would you want to invest in giving land so that we can create an Each One-Teach One, similar to a Whidbey Institute? I just need to ask. I just need to plant the seed for those who want the same change. We’re all on that same path together. So let’s build together. That’s where it is, for me dealing with my own trauma. I’m being proactive about that. So that I can show up my best self to do this work that I have been assigned to do, even when I don’t feel like it. The hopes of what are to come are greater than the sum of me as an individual. So that’s it. If the world is a beautiful place, it can be right. I just think we need to work together to make that happen.
That’s a wrap. That is so beautiful, Toyia. Thank you so, so much for joining me in this inquiry and joining everybody who’s listening. So thank you.