Powerful Women on the Frontlines:
Ophelia Noble Imagines Justice in
After a day of organizing, grant writing and reports, and rolling up her sleeves steeped in community work, Ophelia Noble seamlessly hops on to the five o’clock video meeting with a grace about her tone, and a disciplined focus on the latest frontline story about the work for justice.
“We just helped organize and shut down the last youth immigration detention center out here in Southwest Washington by joining efforts with La Resistencia and mobilizing communities across the region. We are so proud and yet have so much more work to do, and that’s why we have been working to expand our organizational network, increasing capacity to really grow our movement in different areas which support capacity building, direct community services, and advocacy.”
It may be the end of the day when she settles in for a Thursday interview, but Ophelia has just begun to tell us about how she imagines justice in Southwest Washington – and it is expansive. She tells stories with quote-worthy commentaries of how she got started and what sustains her commitment to community, from heartbreak to hope. Generations of her family have called the region home, but little did she and her family know that when gentrification and housing affordability pressures pushed them from Vancouver (Clark County) to Kelso (Cowlitz County), Washington that they would also feel the racist push rejecting them.
She remembers the shocking letter in her mailbox filled with hate and expletives from a neighbor who very clearly relayed their racism instructing her family to leave the neighborhood. Ophelia was determined to rise above the hate and build community where she was offered none. Through the heartbreaking tears, she worked to build supportive networks with courage and since that time in 2018, Ophelia has not looked back working tirelessly to bring her children and other youth together providing them refuge and inspiration to be part of a movement. In 2011, Ophelia launched The Noble Foundation whose familiar tagline is “Recognizing and centering the innate power of community.” In 2018 The Noble Foundation’s focus shifted to Social and Environmental Justice. This is the hope that has risen above the heartbreak of hate that Ophelia so gracefully and fiercely holds in a region where a Black community leader and woman stands out in a social and political regional demographic that would otherwise describe how she does not belong.
What are the odds that she will hold the line? Ophelia is the founder and Executive Director of the Noble Foundation in Vancouver, Washington, and Community Council member and Lead of the Building Power aka Capacity Building Committee for Front and Centered. There is nothing stopping Ophelia from rising every morning to do more during a year when the pandemic intensified racial and climate injustice that continue to disproportionately impact BIPOC communities in Southwest Washington.
When asked about how the Noble Foundation incorporates environmental justice and connects the dots between that lens of issues and the community work for racial and economic justice, she remarks: “It really is simple from our commUNITY perspective we understand the systemic relationship and we cannot afford to resist racial injustice and not speak to environmental inequities that continue to plague our communities.” Ophelia is speaking about the Just Transition our coalition is working towards, but it is not without a sobering perspective. Especially in this moment, Ophelia steels herself when she reflects that “it makes me feel like our lives are not sacred and our pain is not acknowledged. It is critical to come together to resist trauma and pain of systems and build just communities in order to legitimize our hearts, minds, and voices.”
“It really is simple from our commUNITY perspective we understand the systemic relationship and we cannot afford to resist racial injustice and not speak to environmental inequities that continue to plague our communities.”
As a Frontline Response Fund grant recipient in 2020, the Noble Foundation helped 296 families (primarily in Clark and Cowlitz Counties) with their basic needs. Last year, Ophelia and her team pivoted to answer the needs of community members, especially those who were homebound and elderly, experiencing food insecurity, loss of income, and lack of public health information and resources. Her latest report to the community is committed to sharing the experiences from the voices of community members hit hardest by the social and economic impacts of COVID-19, with many families sharing simultaneous disruptions to healthcare, increased expenses with food, utilities, workforce development training and loss of jobs or maintaining various jobs to keep the lights on.
While her organization’s community support services continue, Ophelia and her team of volunteers and small staff have also managed to build and defend community. Even with the time-intensive labor of support services for community members, Ophelia and her team manage to engage in policy advocacy participating in legislative hearings and community meetings to learn and share about the environmental, health, and economic issues impacting their region and specifically BIPOC communities. The many lessons learned in real time have inspired Ophelia and her team of friends, family, volunteers and staff to initiate a movement to further grow a network of services. It is multi-forum and intended to address the depth and breadth of the BIPOC communities in the region. In a year when organizations may have shuttered their doors, Ophelia has mobilized community to create a strategic constellation of programs by creating a 501 (c) 4 advocacy organization Southwest Communities United for Change, a human services center called Our Place/Nuestra Casa Multicultural Center, and positioning the Noble Foundation as the capacity building entity to support and resource the growing BIPOC network of independent programs.
Her leadership expertise, energy, and vision to build the movement are just glimpses of this powerful woman from the Frontlines, and the coalition of Front and Centered is blessed by her leadership.
This is part of a series for Women’s History Month highlighting Women Leaders on the Frontlines in our state who are working at the intersection of environmental, racial, and economic justice.