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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Kiantha Duncan resigns as Spokane NAACP president

Jan. 31, 2023 Updated Tue., Jan. 31, 2023 at 3:05 p.m.

Kianatha Duncan is resigning as the president of the local NAACP chapter.  (Kathy Plonka/The Spokesman-Review)
Kianatha Duncan is resigning as the president of the local NAACP chapter. (Kathy Plonka/The Spokesman-Review) Buy this photo

After two terms as NAACP Spokane president, Kiantha Duncan announced her resignation Monday night.

Duncan, who previously served as vice president, has led the organization since 2020. She was one of the first openly lesbian NAACP chapter presidents nationwide.

Vice president Kurtis Robinson will step in as president, a role he held from 2017-20.

“I just think that the season has come,” Duncan said in an interview Monday. “There is nothing to which there is no end date.”

Duncan resigned in part because of a difference in philosophy between the NAACP and other organizations it often works with when it comes to advocacy work, she said.

Duncan acknowledged she has received criticism that her leadership style is too collaborative or soft.

After nearly three decades working in social and human services, Duncan has learned she can’t be filled with anger in her advocacy work, she said.

“In doing that kind of work, you internalize a lot of the trauma of the people that you serve,” Duncan said. “I wouldn’t be able to survive as a human doing that.”

Instead, Duncan focuses on engaging people in conversation and community, she said.

She’s most proud of the Spokane NAACP’s growth during her tenure.

“That’s a beautiful thing when you look at where we’re placed at in our state and just where we are in the Pacific Northwest, period,” Duncan said. “That’s a big deal.”

She’s also proud of the conversations she’s had with community leaders and citizens surrounding race, bias and injustice.

One such conversation led to a documentary Duncan produced and released last year.

She’s also proud that her tenure is ending after largely positive outcomes, following the controversy with former president Rachel Dolezal. Both Duncan and Robinson have worked diligently to rebuild the organization.

“When you go back and you look at the change that I initiated with the help of Sandy Williams and Walter Kendricks and the Peace and Justice Action League, Liz Moore, Toni Lodge … it was to try to figure out how we can get past that,” Robinson said.

The group of longtime organizers and activists has been able to build momentum in the right direction, and Robinson wants to ensure the organization continues that.

Robinson said he, too, has butted heads with other organizations and their approach.

“Part of that is just understanding that just because something is impacting me a certain way, doesn’t mean that was the intent,” Robinson said. “Not everybody is always coming from the place that they think they are.”

Many of the people who have revitalized the NAACP have been doing social justice work for decades and have a different perspective than the younger generation, both Robinson and Duncan said.

Robinson hopes to work with young people in an approach that acknowledges “not everybody has all the answers, and just because we don’t necessarily agree on everything, doesn’t mean we can’t agree on something.”

He wants the entire Spokane community to move forward “understanding that we’re all being invited to do work in us as we’re doing this work around us.”

Robinson, who does extensive social justice work across Washington, said he has mixed feelings about returning to the presidency.

“I have been able to watch so much of the wonderful stuff that Kiantha has done and am also very understanding and have experience of the burden that she had to carry,” Robinson said. “And so I am very happy that she’s moving to take care of things for herself and family in the way that she needs to take care of them.”

Duncan acknowledged the year has been personally difficult because of the loss of her close friend, Sandy Williams, who died in a plane crash last summer. Duncan also lost her grandmother, aunt, her son’s father and several other loved ones, including her cousin who died last week.

“That amount of grief has really made me laser-focused on what I can handle and what I cannot,” Duncan said.

Despite leaving the NAACP, Duncan plans to continue her humanitarian work. She writes a column for The Spokesman-Review, is finishing a book, serves on numerous boards and runs a consulting practice called Soulful Leadership.

She also hopes to spend more time with her son and four grandchildren.

“I’m still a student of life, and there’s still so much more for me to do and learn,” Duncan said.

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