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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Difference Makers: Kiantha Duncan uses ‘superpower’ with people to build community bridges

Spokane NAACP President Kiantha Duncan, photographed Friday at her home in Spokane Valley, is a 2022 Difference Maker.  (KATHY PLONKA/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIE)

When Kiantha Duncan speaks, people listen.

“I think she has a way of saying hard things that are thoughtful and provocative at the same time, but she says it in a way that resonates with people that may not be used to hearing people that are different than themselves,” said Toni Lodge, founder and CEO of the Native Project.

Duncan is a community leader, activist and avid volunteer.

When she moved from Seattle to Spokane about eight years ago, Duncan immediately got involved in the community. Now, she serves on numerous boards, hosts community events and frequently speaks at area universities.

Each new thing Duncan takes on, she does with intention, she said.

Duncan writes a weekly advice column in The Spokesman-Review called “Dear Kiantha.”

She also serves on the board for KSPS, the PBS station that services the Inland Northwest. Not everyone can afford Netflix or cable, she said, but those people still deserve access to informative, educational and fun programing.

“What I love about public television is it’s something that remains accessible to everyone,” Duncan said.

As a former foster child, serving on the board of the Family Impact Network, which provides services and resources to families in the foster care system, helps Duncan give back to families like hers.

“Foster care was a system that was to keep me safe, but there was also so much harm done in foster care,” Duncan said. “And foster care does not prepare you for real life.”

Supporting an organization that makes the foster care system better is healing for Duncan.

Duncan just began her second term as president of the Spokane NAACP. She was one of the first openly lesbian NAACP chapter presidents nationwide when she was elected to the position in 2020.

“Just to be an openly LGBTQ + woman at the head of this organization in this part of the country is a ridiculously huge accomplishment,” said Kurtis Robinson, Spokane NAACP vice president and local activist. “For her to not only do this, but to stay for a minute … Kiantha answered the call.”

Historically the NAACP has been “the watchdog to make sure that everyone is experiencing equal justice,” Duncan said.

Duncan feels there are enough people in society pointing out what’s wrong, but not many people are pushing forward ideas on how to change that. Her goal is to show people how to break down barriers through love and community.

Those ideals were on display at the sold-out Freedom Fund Banquet last month that not only raised money, but was a display of community in action.

The banquet showed how Duncan has a knack for doing and saying the right thing at the right moment, Robinson said.

“I’ve seen her be able to reach and approach people that I myself, I wouldn’t even mess with them,” Robinson said. “But she would not only mess with them, but she would be able to tell them the truth … in a way that they seem to be able to hear it. And they seem to be able to take some action on the truth that they heard.”

Duncan, who is an avid art collector, also serves on the board of Terrain, a local arts nonprofit.

“Art is another thing that to me is accessible to everyone,” Duncan said. “Art is something that … speaks everyone’s language, and it speaks to everyone differently.”

Duncan loves that Terrain helps young artists turn their passion into profit and supports them growing their skills and experience.

One of her favorite boards she serves on is at Canopy Credit Union, which is a community development financial institution that focuses on financial education for its members.

“Canopy has created in their mission, in their vision, in their organizational structure, a way to allow access to banking to people who are under-resourced,” Duncan said.

Members don’t need a perfect credit score to get a home loan from Canopy and can learn financial resource management, she said. The credit union does its best to building an understanding of poverty into its systems and is constantly re-evaluating processes and policies to remove barriers, Duncan said.

Beyond her many board positions, Duncan frequently hosts events for other nonprofits and museums, and delivers keynotes at local universities.

She hosted the Northwest African American Museum descendants series this year, interviewing family members of famous people like Harriet Tubman and Booker T. Washington.

“It amazes me every time she does something, because she does it selflessly, with grace, with so much thoughtfulness,” said Sylvia Brown, Duncan’s wife.

Duncan’s work never stops, and isn’t confined to official positions, titles or roles. If someone calls in the middle of the night, like a woman experiencing homelessness who Duncan befriended, the couple gets up and gets them warm, fed and a place to stay, Brown said.

“Her skills are really just very broad,” Lodge said.

Duncan can make people listen with her articulate and charismatic manner.

“This is not a town that makes it easy for women of color to be heard,” Lodge said. “Many times, not only is she heard, but people want to hear what she has to say.”

Duncan thinks her draw comes from being honest about hard things, but in a kind and caring way.

“I tell the truth about things, but I also always filter everything through love,” she said.

Having all those people willing to listen and act is Duncan’s magic, Lodge said.

“That’s probably her superpower,” Lodge said. “Bringing all these different people together.”