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

Shamerica Nakamura brings community together one high school student at a time

YWCA Spokane is honoring Shamerica Nakamura with the 2023 Young Woman of Achievement award.  (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN)
By Nina Culver For The Spokesman-Review

Shamerica Nakamura spent much of her childhood on the move thanks to her father’s military career. When she arrived in Spokane, she never intended to stay for long, but found herself drawn to working with children and youth, first with the Boys and Girls Club and then with Spokane Public Schools.

Nakamura’s work to make sure all students are included has earned her the 2023 YWCA Young Woman of Achievement award. She and other winners will be honored at a luncheon on March 9 at the Davenport Grand Hotel.

She was born at Fort Lewis and graduated from high school in Spanaway. In between, she traveled the world, including spending time in Germany. She first came to Spokane to attend Whitworth University, where she graduated with a degree in sociology in 2011.

“I’m a really indecisive person, and I didn’t declare my major until my junior year,” she said. “I couldn’t decide between psychology and sociology.”

It was her desire for understanding that led her to sociology.

“I like understanding the different complexities that make people who they are,” she said. “I like to understand why things are the way they are.”

While she was still in college, she started a work-study job at the Boys and Girls Club of Spokane County. After graduating, she stayed, working her way up to the position of program director. In 2015, she took a job as a Site Coordinator with Communities in Schools of Spokane County at North Central High School.

“When I came to North Central, I knew so many of the kids because of the Boys and Girls Club,” she said.

She became a school district employee in 2018 but continued her work at North Central as a School Community Facilitator Specialist. She runs a food pantry out of her office and helps students with anything they need, including academic support and clothing.

“My position here is to help North Central families, staff and community navigate through different barriers,” she said.

She once spent the afternoon on the phone looking for a bunk bed for a family and ended up finding two. The community is a key part of her job, Nakamura said.

“The majority of the time when there is a need, the community can step up and fulfill it,” she said.

Her goal is to create relationships with students and their families. She said she watches the students around her work hard and persevere toward their goals.

“It gives me hope for the future,” she said. “Young people change the world. It’s nice to witness their journey.”

Nakamura is the lead trainer for the district’s Culturally Responsive Classroom Management program designed to promote equity and anti-racism. She helps with the school’s Pride Club and oversees the Link Crew that welcomes incoming freshmen. She also moderates SHADES, the student multicultural club at North Central.

Her work has been recognized before. She was given the Chase Asset Builder Award in 2017 and the Washington Education Association Human and Civil Rights Award in 2022.

While she never intended to stay in Spokane this long, Nakamura loves her work and has no plans to leave.

“Spokane is actually the place I’ve stayed the longest in my life,” she said. “Spokane is like a vortex. It sucks you in and you can’t leave.”

She loves working with high school students in particular. “They challenge me,” she said. “I’m still growing, and these high school students push me in my growth. They keep me on my toes.”

North Central Principal Tami McCracken has worked with Nakamura since 2016 and calls her an amazing person with a unique ability to leverage resources.

“She’s someone I aspire to be like,” McCracken said. “She is an inspiration. She is passionate for the work that she does. She works really hard to make sure all the students at this school feel connected.”

The SHADES club that Nakamura leads has the vision that people of all shades and all cultural and religious backgrounds belong. “Her SHADES club is a model for the rest of the district,” McCracken said.

Nakamura is never afraid to step in and do something that needs to be done, McCracken said. “If she sees a need, she’s willing to step into any need,” she said.

Nakamura said she’s not sure she’s deserving of the YWCA’s award. “I feel like I really just do my job,” she said. “I don’t like recognition. I like to work behind the scenes. I’m humbled that people see me as achieving greatness.”