“My first day here, I woke up and realized there weren’t any Black people,” laughs Shaquana Dobbins, a Direct Service Professional in VOA Disability Services for Skagit.
With her mom and brother, Shaquana moved to the Western Washington area from South Carolina at age 15, where her culture and community had been overwhelmingly Black. Her new hometown stood in stark contrast, but she welcomed the change. “My mom raised me and my brother to think for ourselves and be open minded. So, to not be surrounded by so many Black people – where everyone acted the same and thought the same and did the same things – I wanted to explore other cultures.”
Education at Burlington High School was more advanced than her school in South Carolina. As the only Black student, Shaquana clung to the support of her teachers and mentors who realized she was struggling and created a space for her to excel, pushing her to graduate. Unfortunately, life outside of school didn’t afford the same opportunities.
“My name has been more of a problem than my race. It sounds ‘ghetto’ to some people, and I think I get judged before people even know me.” Remembering her time as a caregiver at a different organization, a patient saw Shaquana’s elaborate tattoos covering both arms like sleeves and told the manager that she didn’t “want that negro girl working with me.” Ironically, staffing shortages meant that Shaquana was eventually assigned to her. They formed a bond, and after the patient was discharged, she requested Shaquana for home care. Her voice heavy with weariness, Shaquana says, “I just felt like I had to earn that trust first, before she would even give me a chance.”
After the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis in 2020, Shaquana felt an urgency to speak out. She created a public Facebook event and invited anyone who would attend. With only her fiancé and grandmother by her side, standing at an intersection in Mount Vernon, “first, the Whites showed up. Then the Natives. Then the Hispanics.” Soon, more than 100 people stood shoulder to shoulder in protest. After Shaquana led a moment of silence, a man approached her and asked who organized the march. “I did,” she responded with pride. For the first time in her life, she felt like a leader. She watched local protests begin to spring up In the days and weeks that followed. “It took me to lead for people to say ‘Okay, we can protest and have a voice.’”
Shaquana remembers Black History Month celebrations in South Carolina focusing on heritage: food, vendors, music, and events that celebrated Black life. In the end, she reflects, it’s not about a month. It’s about just being human. Being a person who lives in and loves her community. Being a thread in the fabric of American life.