Executive Director of Young West Virginia Forward
Former Wonder Woman Amy Jo Hutchison calls Takeiya Smith “straight fire.” The pair have protested together, pressed their elected officials to do better, and refuse to hear the word “no” when it comes to effecting positive change for West Virginia. Smith works her magic through galvanizing the state’s young people.
As executive director of Young West Virginia Forward, Smith spends her days empowering young people to change what they find most pressing in their communities, on their campuses, and in the systems that impact their daily lives. She’s creating change makers and building momentum across the state.
Smith draws power from her experience of growing up in poverty. She was born and raised in both Kanawha and Putnam county. It was a complex upbringing, but she got through it, she says. “Poverty can sometimes make you move around a lot more than you want to,” she says. She went to college, graduated with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, and knew she would work every day for the rest of her life being the change she wants to see in the world.
Smith is doing right by that commitment, working toward a more equitable, inclusive, and culturally competent West Virginia. She started Young West Virginia Forward in 2015. The idea for the organization blossomed from an annual conference that she attended where young people from across the state shared projects happening in their communities with their peers. “It really sparked a youth-centered movement for civic engagement work,” she says.
Her work sometimes takes great courage and a steady will. “I’m definitely not fearless, but I can be terrified and do something anyway—because that’s what I believe in,” she says. “Sometimes you have to put everything on the line.”
From a racial justice standpoint, Smith says, West Virginia can be hard for Black people. “It’s truly one of the most challenging places for Black people to exist,” she says. “To know that, and to not simply accept what’s been handed to you. To fight. To mobilize to make a difference. All of that takes a lot of audacity and tenacity.”
Smith and her band of young activists may have the odds stacked against them, but they’re still willing to do whatever it takes to create a more equitable West Virginia.
Learn more about our Wonder Women
Since 2014 WV Living magazine has been honoring West Virginia Wonder Women, amazing women who are raising the bar in their communities, serving as beacons of light in their industries, and forcing change for the greater good. WV Living is proud to celebrate these Appalachian mothers, millennials, and mavens proving that in a time full of uncertainty, divisiveness, and hate, love for one another is all we really need. No need for bulletproof bracelets or a golden lasso of truth—these women are creating a better West Virginia with their can-do attitudes and Mountain State spirit.